Trump says he's considering executive order to add citizenship question to census

The president's action would likely trigger a new round of lawsuits from critics who argue it's nothing but a political ploy to hurt Democrats.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump talks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on July 5, 2019.Evan Vucci / AP

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By Dartunorro Clark

President Donald Trump on Friday said he is looking at issuing an executive order to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

"We're thinking about doing that, we have four or five ways we can do it, it's one of the ways we're thinking about doing it very seriously," Trump said when asked about using an executive order to add the question.

"We can start the printing (of the census forms) now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision, so we're working on a lot of things, including an executive order," he added.

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However, such a move by the president directing the Census Bureau to include the question could prompt a new round of lawsuits from civil rights groups who initially sued to block the question.

Trump's comments came as Justice Department lawyers said Friday in a court filing that it is continuing the legal battle to add the question after U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel of Maryland had ordered the lawyers earlier this week to state by Friday whether the government is ending its quest or whether it intends to keep seeking a way to add the question.

The administration new bid to add the question was spurred by an irate tweet from the president earlier this week urging officials to press forward despite a Supreme Court ruling against adding the questions and then public statements from the Justice and Commerce departments that it would not be included.

"The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!" Trump tweeted Wednesday. "We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question."

The census forms are currently being printed without the citizenship question, officials have said.

Joseph Hunt, a Justice Department lawyer, told the judge in the Maryland case Wednesday the situation was "fluid."

"We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court's decision, that would allow to include the citizenship question on the census," Hunt said.

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. Opponents of adding the question said it was designed as a Republican effort to depress response rates in largely Democratic immigrant communities.

Trump said Friday that Roberts, who called the administration's legal rationale "contrived" in the majority opinion, essentially had invited the White House to return to the court with a better argument.

"I have a lot of respect for Justice Roberts, but he didn’t like it, but he did say, 'Come back,' essentially he said, 'Come back,'" Trump said.