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Conservative justices don't think truth matters

Dana Milbank on

Chief Justice John Roberts used every euphemism in the thesaurus this last week to accuse the Trump administration of lying.

"The evidence tells a story that does not match the ... explanation."

"The sole stated reason -- seems to have been contrived."

There was "a significant mismatch between the decision ... and the rationale."

The "explanation ... is incongruent with what the record reveals."

The chief justice, writing for the majority in the closely watched census case, was referring to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's bald-faced lie: He testified to Congress that he added a citizenship question to the census "solely" because the Justice Department requested it to help with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Three separate judges found that to be false, and evidence emerging since the trials confirmed appearances: The real rationale was to reduce the power of non-white people and Democrats.

 

"We cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given," Roberts wrote, noting that precedent says the Supreme Court isn't "required to exhibit a naivete from which ordinary citizens are free." He went on: "If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case."

The truth was on trial before the Supreme Court in the census case. The good news: The facts won. The bad news: It was a 5-to-4 decision.

Incredibly, Justice Samuel Alito, in a dissent, argued that it's perfectly acceptable for the administration to lie to the courts. "The federal judiciary has no authority to stick its nose into ... whether the reasons given by Secretary Ross for that decision were his only reasons or his real reasons." Phony reasons are welcome in Alito's courtroom!

The victory might be temporary -- Roberts essentially invited the administration to concoct a new rationale for the discriminatory census question -- but in this dark moment for the truth, it's worth celebrating even a fleeting acknowledgment from the high court that facts still matter.

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