The Supreme Court’s decision to block the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census on Thursday triggered a furious response from President Donald Trump’s closest media allies, with some denouncing Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, as a “traitor” or even demanding his resignation or impeachment.
In a narrow 5-4 ruling, Roberts held that the Commerce Department had not provided an honest rationale for instituting the question, violating the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, and needed to present a more truthful one. The Commerce Department had publicly claimed the question was needed to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, but a wealth of evidence suggests that the true reason was to drive down participation among Hispanics and help Republican politicians garner more favorable voting districts.
Indeed, many of the attacks on Roberts following the ruling were for showing insufficient fealty to the needs of the Republican Party.
Lou Dobbs, whose Fox Business show revolves around worshipful coverage of Trump and unhinged denunciations of undocumented immigrants, opened his show Thursday by bellowing that the Supreme Court had ruled “against American citizens and the census citizenship question. The court’s running the country now and the Supreme Court [is] as politically corrupt as the FBI, the Department of Justice, or Congress.”
Dobbs set the tone for the evening’s show, in which the virulently anti-immigrant host and his array of Trumpist guests wildly lashed out against Roberts. The program’s highlight was former White House aide and unhinged would-be serial villain Sebastian Gorka’s declaration that the chief justice’s opinion rendered him a “traitor to the Constitution.”
Some Trumpists mimicked the president’s own reaction in calling for an extraconstitutional response to the court’s ruling.
Trump tweeted Thursday that because of the “totally ridiculous” ruling, he had “asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter.” Legal experts say that such an unprecedented delay would violate the Constitution, which requires that the census be conducted every 10 years.
Victoria Toensing, a regular Fox guest who was briefly announced as a member of the president’s legal team, praised Trump’s response on Dobbs’ show. “This is what's so great about this president, Lou,” she said. “What other president of either party would have said, ‘This is against me now. Let me see, how can I put off the census so we can fix it?’ That's where his brain immediately goes.”
Dobbs himself went even further, questioning whether the Trump administration should “outright defy the activist court and put the citizenship question in the 2020 census,” a move that would create a constitutional crisis.
Other Trump allies offered a different way forward: Roberts’ removal from the court -- willing or otherwise.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham suggested that Roberts should leave the bench voluntarily.
Matt Schlapp, a conservative commentator whose unyielding obeisance to the president and his wife’s position in the White House have made him one of the most successful grifters of the era, went further. He tweeted, “I’m for impeaching the Chief Justice for lying to all of us about his support of the Constitution,” claiming that Roberts had failed to do his job as one of the court’s “GOP judges.”
As Schlapp’s reference to “GOP judges” suggests, much of the vitriol against Roberts revolves around differing perspectives on the role judges play in government. Roberts has sought to present a vision of an independent, nonpartisan judiciary. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” he said in an extraordinary public rebuke of Trump after the president had attacked a judge who ruled against his administration as an “Obama judge.” “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”
This squabble seems to be largely a matter of temperament and tone. Roberts’ rulings frequently fall in line with the prescriptions of Republican politicians, and his vivisection of issues like the Voting Rights Act and union rights have the clear effect of benefiting the GOP’s political standing. Indeed, on the same day he ruled against the administration on the census question, Roberts issued a “blank check for partisan gerrymandering” in a separate case, bolstering the GOP’s efforts to wield power with minority support and taking a hammer to the basic premises of democratic governance.
But that’s not enough for Schlapp, Dobbs, or his guests. They view judges appointed by Republican presidents as first and foremost arms of that political party, and last night, they brought up Roberts’ comment about a politically neutral judiciary to slam him for failing to put the GOP first.
“John Roberts is always looking out for the court and he doesn't want anybody to think the court’s political,” said Ed Rollins, a frequent Dobbs guest who runs a pro-Trump super PAC. “Well, this court is certainly political in the wrong way.”
“He's just outright lying,” Dobbs agreed. “He says these aren't Bush judges, these aren't Obama judges. That's exactly what they are, and what he has become is duplicitous.”
“He's now in a position where he's supposed to be leading a conservative court and he's not doing that at all,” Rollins added.
Joseph di Genova, Toensing’s husband and legal partner, returned to the point later in the broadcast, saying, “The chief justice just wanted to stick his finger in the president's eye. It's demeaning to the court and it's embarrassing,and he says there's no difference between Democratic and Republican judges -- baloney.”