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Justice Ginsburg hints at her ruling on upcoming census citizenship question

She spoke candidly at a meeting of judges and lawyers in the 2nd Circuit court.
Image: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits onstage as the third speaker of the David Berg Distinguished Speakers Series, during an event organized by the Museum of the City of New York with WNET-TV held at the New York Academy of Medicine on Dec. 15, 2018, in New York.Rebecca Gibian / AP

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Friday that last year's retirement of Anthony Kennedy was "the event of greatest consequence for the current term, and perhaps for many terms ahead."

She spoke to the annual meeting of judges and lawyers in the 2nd Circuit, which includes the states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont. Kennedy was succeeded by Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's second Supreme Court nominee, who is more conservative than Kennedy.

In her usual candid way, Ginsburg also appeared to give a hint about how she might vote in the legal battle over whether the Trump administration can add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census form that goes to every household. A total of 18 states are challenging the plan, saying it would discourage responses from legal and illegal immigrants, reducing the accuracy of the population count.

Ginsburg said the case is "of huge importance."

Summarizing the two sides in the dispute, she added this conclusion: "Speculators about the outcome note that last year, in Trump v. Hawaii, the Court upheld the so-called travel ban, in an opinion granting great deference to the executive. Respondents in the census case have argued that a ruling in (Commerce) Secretary (Wilbur) Ross' favor would stretch deference beyond the breaking point."

And she seemed sympathetic to the advocates of political reform who are urging the Supreme Court to rule that states can go too far in using partisanship to draw the political boundaries for seats in the U.S. House and state legislatures.

"However one comes out on the legal issues, partisan gerrymandering unsettles the fundamental premise that people elect their representatives, not vice versa," Ginsburg said.

With three weeks remaining in the current term, the court has yet to announce decisions in 27 cases. In addition to the census and political gerrymandering questions, the court will also decide whether a huge concrete cross can remain on public land in suburban Washington, and whether separate prosecutions in state and federal court for the same offense violate the Constitution's protection against double jeopardy.