Trump Administration Will Print Census Forms Without Citizenship Question

In this June 27, 2019, file photo, Demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court as the justices finish the term with a key decision in a case involving an attempt by the Trump administration to ask everyone about their citizenship status in the 2020 census.

In this June 27, 2019, file photo, Demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court as the justices finish the term with a key decision in a case involving an attempt by the Trump administration to ask everyone about their citizenship status in the 2020 census. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

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The decision follows a Supreme Court ruling that rejected the administration’s justification for adding a question about citizenship status to the once-a-decade survey.

Update: On Wednesday, the Trump administration changed its position on the citizenship question, with a Justice Department lawyer telling a federal judge that lawyers are looking for a way to move forward with including it on the Census. The announcement came after President Trump tweeted that he was "absolutely moving forward” with the question. U.S. District Court Judge George J. Hazel told lawyers he wanted an answer by Friday afternoon about what the administration would be doing. 

Original story: The Trump administration will print the 2020 census form without a question asking people whether they’re U.S. citizens, the administration confirmed on Tuesday.

In a 5-4 ruling last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the administration’s explanation for adding the question to the census survey, which is conducted once every decade and has implications for congressional representation and the flow of federal dollars to states.

“The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

“I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling,” he added.

Ross last year approved adding the question to the population survey. 

When Commerce revealed its plans to ask about citizenship status, its announcement said the decision followed a request from the Justice Department, and that the question would help enforce the Voting Rights Act, which is designed to prevent voter discrimination.

But that explanation later came under scrutiny and it surfaced that Ross and other administration officials had discussed including the question prior to the DOJ request.

The administration’s move to include the question led to at least seven lawsuits, brought by states, local governments, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, advocacy groups and individuals.

Writing for the majority in last week’s court ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the Voting Rights Act enforcement rationale “seems to have been contrived.”

“The evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision,” Roberts added.

The administration also argued that there was historical precedent for including citizenship questions and that they’d appeared on census surveys in the past. But legal scholars who researched the backstory cast doubt on the extent to which these claims were true. 

Not long before the Supreme Court released its decision, files found on hard drives that belonged to a deceased Republican strategist, and filed in federal court, raised the possibility that the question was part of an effort to gain the party an advantage in future elections. 

Those opposed to the citizenship question, including states and localities that sued, argued that adding it to the upcoming census would deter participation among immigrant communities and undermine the accuracy of the once-a-decade headcount.

New York was one of the states that sued.

“The Supreme Court last week made it clear that this anti-immigrant question was unconstitutional and that the census is too important to play partisan politics,” the state’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“For once, President Trump has listened to reason and the facts, and dropped this cynical attempt to weaponize one of the underpinnings of our very democracy,” he added.

Fifteen Republican state attorneys general were among those who backed the administration’s push to include the question.

The census helps to guide the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funding, as well as the allocation of congressional representatives for each state and members of the Electoral College.

Research released in 2017 looked at 16 large federal programs that rely on datasets derived from the census to allocate funds. It found that in fiscal year 2015 all 50 states and the District of Columbia received about $589 billion from this group of programs.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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