“There is no smoking gun here; only smoke and mirrors,” the Department of Justice insisted when liberal groups uncovered evidence that the Trump administration was seeking to add a citizenship question to the census for the purpose of enhancing white voting power through redistricting. The Justice Department characterized the new evidence as resembling “the product of a conspiracy theorist.” The respondents’ “conspiracy theory” was “implausible on its face,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco echoed in a brief written for the Supreme Court in June.
The conservative justices on the Supreme Court apparently found this argument very persuasive. The evidence that the Trump administration had consciously sought to use the census to strengthen white voting power was ultimately not a part of the case before the Court, which came down to whether the Trump administration had violated administrative law by misrepresenting its motives in adding the citizenship question.
Nevertheless, Justice Clarence Thomas mocked a lower-court judge for concluding, as did a majority of the Court, that the Trump administration misled the public when it said it wanted to add the citizenship question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. “A judge predisposed to distrust the Secretary or the administration could arrange those facts on a corkboard and—with a jar of pins and a spool of string—create an eye-catching conspiracy web,” Thomas wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Thomas even went so far as to accuse the majority of echoing “the din of suspicion and distrust that seems to typify modern discourse.” Justice Samuel Alito, for his part, argued that it was no business of the Court if the government had lied about a decision affecting the entire country.