Supreme Court expands scope of census citizenship question case

The move comes after a federal judge in California ruled that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversees the census, violated the Constitution's Enumeration Clause.
Image: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on oversight of the Commerce Department, in Washington on March 14, 2019.Mary F. Calvert / Reuters

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By Dartunorro Clark

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it is expanding the scope of the case against the Trump administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, agreeing to decide whether the move violated the Constitution.

The move comes after a federal judge in California ruled earlier this month that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversees the census, violated the Constitution's Enumeration Clause because the citizenship question prevents the government from conducting an accurate count of every living person in the country.

A New York federal judge also blocked the administration from including the question, ruling in January that Ross "violated the public trust" by adding it. The judge called Ross' decision "arbitrary and capricious" because it would "materially reduce response rates among immigrant and Hispanic households."

Ross has argued that the question was added at his direction after he received a letter from the Department of Justice in late 2017 that said the data was needed to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act. Ross came under intense scrutiny for the move and recently defended his rationale during a fiery congressional hearing.

The Supreme Court previously said it would examine whether the question violated federal administrative law. The court will hear arguments in the case in April and rule before its term ends in June.

Last year, a coalition of 17 states, Washington, D.C., and six cities sued the Commerce Department, citing a concern that fewer immigrants will respond to the survey and therefore decrease the accuracy of the 2020 census, which determines funding allocation and how political districts are drawn. Civil and immigrant rights groups also sued to block the question.