The U.S. Constitution, in Article 1 Section 2, describes how a census is to be taken every 10 years. The push by the administration to force a square peg through a round hole is a constitutional issue whose interpretation should rest with the Supreme Court.
In its original state, the document read, in part: "Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons." What would by today's standards be considered offensive language was stricken by the 14th Amendment. But while it defines who is a citizen, that change doesn't appear to "deprive" anyone of "life, liberty or property, without due process," since part of the amendment doesn't separate a "citizen" from a "person." And thus stands the core of the argument over whether the 2020 Census should include a question about citizenship.
By any standard, Chief Justice John Roberts is a conservative constitutionalist - arguably one of the most knowledgeable seated by a Republican president in decades. Progressives may not like some of his decisions, but constitutional scholars agree that Roberts has played it down the line when it comes to the most cherished of American documents.
That's why the Trump administration should take Roberts' word for it when he says adding the question of citizenship to the upcoming census "appears to have been contrived." But yet the administration appeared as of last week to be girding itself to defy the Court's decision, still looking for a way to force the citizenship question on census documents. Setting aside outraged comments from both the left and the right, it should be noted that there are less expensive - and less intrusive - ways of determining citizenship. But there are arguments on both sides for why it should, or should not, be a census issue.
The Constitution intends the census numbers to determine levels of service - fire, police, emergency medical, etc. - to residents of states and cities. This amounts to more than $400 billion each year in allocations, and areas with the greatest populations get the most federal dollars. This figure also includes tribal governments. Although undocumented immigrants aren't eligible for "welfare," their lives might be saved if firefighters extinguish a blaze in an apartment complex in which they reside, or they might be helped when they are caught in the cross-fire and police arrive to defuse a volatile situation, or if they need emergency medical care.
Many foes of undocumented immigrants feel they should have no benefits, even peripherally. They will argue that since the census count determines apportionment in the House of Representatives, these "aliens" unfairly help boost representation in certain areas of the country. And especially in the case of current administration officials, they further claim that since the families of the migrants tend to vote Democratic, this would tilt the numbers away from Republicans, giving "political power" unjustly to what is currently the minority party.
Many Americans long for the day when this country is not tied down to two political parties, and others with a more independent streak have their voices heard. That's a noble goal to pursue. In the meantime, as the Constitution has established, the Supreme Court's interpretation of the census intent, and every other part of the Constitution, must necessarily be the final word, until Congress sets the wheels in motion to change it. The motives of the political parties should not cause any of the robed ones to flinch, much less cave in.