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Trump Creates A Constitutional Crisis — Will American Democracy Survive It? [Opinion]

Trump Creates A Constitutional Crisis — Will American Democracy Survive It? [Opinion]

President Donald Trump is preparing to announce Thursday afternoon his intentions to print the 2020 Census Form with a controversial question on citizenship included.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Doing so is problematic for a number of reasons. For starters, it could stifle the count of the census itself — even legal immigrants, who have become citizens, could be wary of answering or even participating in the survey, given that thousands of legal U.S. citizens have been unduly rounded up (some even deported) by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials already, per reporting from TruthDig.

But there’s a new problem, and it stems from the fact that this president doesn’t seem to believe that the laws of this nation should have to apply to him at all. Trump intends to print the citizenship question on the census form even though the Supreme Court told him he can’t.

Trump promoted his intention to do so on social media, USA Today reported.

“We will all go to the beautiful [White House] Rose Garden for a News Conference on the Census and Citizenship,” Trump said.

Sources indicated that’s where he’ll announce his plans to move ahead in printing the question on the form.

This creates a brand new dilemma regarding the census question altogether, one that has dire outcomes not just for how funds are appropriated or legislative districts are divied up, but for the very way our democracy will function in the years ahead.

This is, with no hyperbole intended or exaggerations being made, a constitutional crisis.

The Supreme Court explicitly told this administration that it cannot print the citizenship question or make any other changes to the census form without providing a clear and justified reason why it must do so. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion on the matter, the Trump administration’s rationale was “contrived,” and thus needed further review.

Rather than hash out its reasonings, Trump is determined to ignore the decision by the nation’s highest court and to continue on, believing his opinion carries more weight than the Supreme Court’s.

Noah Rothman, editor at Commentary magazine, put it bluntly in a Twitter post on Thursday morning. “Defying the Supreme Court’s directive would open a seal that no one should want to see broken,” he said, adding that Trump’s decision to do so “would be a legitimate constitutional crisis.”

Rothman is absolutely correct in his assessment: this is a definitive crisis in the making. 

For a president to say he’s above the law, for him to not only believe but to also act out in a way that defies a co-equal branch’s check against his administration’s actions, would indeed signal that this president, when unable to pass policy in a legitimate way, is happy to go ahead and implement his plans in an illegal fashion instead. 

Congress had better be watching this moment. The American people ought to be watching it as well, with a critical eye. For unless someone or some institution stands up to this president, then this is the moment that democracy and the rule of law have died in America.

The president is not a king. He must abide by the rules set up by his predecessors, by the Constitution, by Congress, and by the Supreme Court. For him to defy those rules is a declaration of his belief that he holds absolute authority, a notion which must, for the good of our nation, be soundly rejected.

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