Trump Abandons Fight for Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

Jul 2, 2019
In The News

The Trump administration abandoned its hard-fought plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census after the U.S. Supreme Court challenged its purpose, a win for immigrant-rights groups and Democrats who claimed the query was designed to dilute their power.

The move is a sharp reversal for President Donald Trump, who said last week that he’d explore ways to delay the census after the Supreme Court put the plan on hold. In a 5-4 ruling, the court said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s stated rationale for including the question was “contrived” and couldn’t be squared with the evidence about his true motivations.

“I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling regarding my decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 Census,” Ross said in a statement Tuesday. “The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question.”

“Today’s news is a victory for New York State, for America, and for every single person in this nation,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led a coalition of states in suing over the question, said in a statement.

Opponents claimed that the citizenship question sought to reduce immigrants’ participation in the survey and that administration officials hid their true aim of boosting Republican and white voters. Ross said the goal was to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters.

In its ruling last week, the high court said the administration needed to put forward a rationale for the question that could pass legal muster.

The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years, and census day is set by federal law as April 1. The administration has said the 2020 census questionnaire needed to be ready for printing by June 30.

The Census Bureau’s chief scientist concluded the question would cause more than 2 million households, representing about 6.5 million people, to fail to respond to the census questionnaire. The bureau said statistical modeling techniques could use existing government data to produce more accurate citizenship information.

The court battle took an unusual twist in recent weeks when it emerged that a Republican redistricting consultant had played a significant role in the decision to add the query. The late consultant, Thomas Hofeller, concluded in a 2015 study, commissioned by the conservative website Washington Free Beacon, that adding a citizenship question would hurt Democrats and help “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” in redistricting, according to the New York Immigrant Coalition, which was among the plaintiffs in the case.

Democrats celebrated the decision.

“Moving forward with the 2020 Census without the citizenship question brings us a step closer to a full and accurate count,” Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, who heads the House Census Caucus, said in a statement.

The Constitution requires a decennial census -- or an “actual Enumeration” -- but doesn’t provide any guidance about what information should be collected. Census-takers started asking about citizenship in 1820 but haven’t posed the question to every household since 1950.

— With assistance by Alyza Sebenius, Andrew M Harris, and Bob Van Voris