Trump administration will print 2020 census without citizenship question

The Supreme Court last week blocked the administration from adding the question, saying it did not provide a sufficient rationale for including it in the census.
Image: Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court during arguments over a Trump administration plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 Census on April 23, 2019.
Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court during arguments over a Trump administration plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 Census on April 23, 2019.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

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By Hallie Jackson and Dartunorro Clark

The Trump administration will move forward with printing the 2020 census without a controversial citizenship question, a Department of Justice spokesperson said Tuesday.

The Supreme Court last week blocked the administration from adding the question, saying it did not provide a sufficient rationale for including it in the census. Opponents of adding the question said it was designed as a Republican effort to depress response rates in largely Democratic immigrant communities.

A Justice Department trial attorney sent an email to an opposing counsel in the citizenship case, saying “the decision has been made to print the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire without a citizenship question, and that the printer has been instructed to begin the printing process,” according to a copy of the email posted online by one of the attorneys involved.

Civil rights groups celebrated the decision.

“In light of the Supreme Court's ruling, the Trump administration had no choice but to proceed with printing the 2020 census forms without a citizenship question," Dale Ho, who directs the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project and argued the Supreme Court case, said in a statement Tuesday. "Everyone in America counts in the census, and today's decision means we all will."

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed in a statement Tuesday that the Census Bureau has started printing the decennial questionnaires without the question. He said he "strongly" disagreed with the court's ruling on his decision to reinstate the question, adding, "My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census.”

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the decision "a welcome development for our democracy."

She said in a statement that House Democrats will “continue to advance strong legislation to secure critical funding to guarantee maximum participation and inclusion so that every person in every community is counted.”

In a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberal justices, the court majority said the government has the right to ask a citizenship question, but needs to properly justify changing the longstanding practice of the Census Bureau.

The last time the bureau asked a citizenship question on the official form was in 1950, when immigration rates had slowed and survey techniques improved in counting foreign-born residents.

The Trump administration's justification was "contrived," Roberts wrote, and did not appear to be the genuine reason for the change.

Last March, Ross announced that the bureau would add the question, with the administration saying it was "necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters" and enforce parts of the Voting Rights Act.

A coalition of 18 states, several of the nation's largest cities and immigrant rights groups sued to block the Trump administration from adding the question, arguing it would make immigrants reluctant to respond to the census mailer. Three federal judges then ruled against the administration before it arrived at the Supreme Court.

After the Supreme Court's ruling, President Donald Trump suggested that the bureau could delay the census in order to eventually add the question, which legal scholars noted could run afoul of the constitutional mandate that a decennial be performed every 10 years.

Trump tweeted about the census question Tuesday night, writing: “A very sad time for America when the Supreme Court of the United States won’t allow a question of 'Is this person a Citizen of the United States?' to be asked on the #2020 Census!”

Trump also tweeted: “I have asked the Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice to do whatever is necessary to bring this most vital of questions, and this very important case, to a successful conclusion.”