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— In a surprising move, the Supreme Court on Thursday kept the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census for now, and the question's opponents say there's no time to revisit the issue before next week's scheduled start to the printing of census forms.

But President Donald Trump said on Twitter after the decision that he's asked lawyers if they can "delay the Census, no matter how long" until the "United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision" on the issue. Under federal law the census must begin on April 1, 2020. A former director of the Census Bureau said he believed Congress would have to change the law for the count to be delayed.

The issue of whether to add the citizenship question to the census is a politically charged one. Democratic cities and states who oppose adding it argue that they'd get less federal money and fewer representatives in Congress if the question is asked because it would discourage the participation of minorities, primarily Hispanics, who tend to support Democrats.

During arguments in the case at the Supreme Court in April it seemed as though the Trump administration would win because Chief Justice John Roberts and other conservatives appointed by Republican presidents did not appear to see anything wrong with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' decision to add the question. Ultimately, however, Roberts joined the court's four more liberal members in saying the administration's current justification for the question "seems to have been contrived."

The Trump administration had said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters' access to the ballot box. But the Justice Department had never previously sought a citizenship question in the 54-year history of the landmark voting rights law.

"Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the secretary gave for his decision," Roberts wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas said in dissent that "the court's erroneous decision...unjustifiably interferes with the 2020 census." Trump's two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined Thomas' opinion. Justice Samuel Alito wrote separately in partial dissent.

What will happen next is unclear. The Census Bureau said in a brief statement only that the decision is "currently being reviewed." But The American Civil Liberties Union's Dale Ho, who argued against the citizenship question's addition at the Supreme Court said "there really, really is not time" for the administration to revisit adding the question.

The decision came on the last day the court was issuing opinions before a summer break. Also on Thursday the court issued a decision in a second politically charged case, dealing a huge blow to efforts to combat the drawing of electoral districts for partisan gain.

The Census Bureau's own experts predict that millions of Hispanics and immigrants would go uncounted if the census asked everyone if he or she is an American citizen. And immigrant advocacy organizations and Democratic-led states, cities and counties that challenged the question's addition argue the question would make people with noncitizens in their households less likely to fill out their census forms.

In his opinion, Roberts wrote that evidence showed that Ross "was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office." The Commerce Department oversees the Census Bureau.

Roberts added that there is "a significant mismatch between the decision the secretary made and the rationale he provided." The court sent the issue of adding the citizenship question back to administration officials.

It's not clear whether the Trump administration could try again to add the question, providing a fuller explanation of the reasons for doing so. Opponents said that can't be done quickly and that the problems identified by the court could be hard to overcome, but they didn't rule out that the administration might try.

Evidence uncovered since the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case supports claims that the citizenship question is part of a broader Republican effort to accrue political power at the expense of minorities, the challengers say.

The Constitution requires a census count every 10 years. A question about citizenship had once been common, but it has not been widely asked since 1950. At the moment, the question is part of a separate detailed annual sample of a small chunk of the population, the American Community Survey.


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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    June 27, 2019 at 10:36 a.m.

    SCOTUS ruled as most expected on the citizenship question, noting the chaotic methods Commerce and Justice used to attempt to justify it.
    On gerrymandering, it is a setback and will continue to result in unreasonable districts. SCOTUS refused to be involved in the politics of the matter and decided to leave this to the states and Congress to figure out. One point that was argued within the VRA. With this decision that I still need to sift through, what does that mean with regards to the Gingles test on district compactness?
    I don't think the door is completely closed on federal intervention on these cases depending on how Roberts wrote the opinion. It just means that 2020 will leave the door open some more for gerrymandering. That goes both ways and with urbanization increasing, it means we will probably see even worse examples of gerrymandering as conservative legislatures attempt to dilute progressive urban areas through cracking and packing.

  • GeneralMac
    June 27, 2019 at 10:38 a.m.

    I will fill out this census like all the others in the past.


    nothing more/nothing less

  • hah406
    June 27, 2019 at 11:06 a.m.

    Good Mac. That is all the census is supposed to be. That, plus address so they know about how to divide up various legislative districts for appropriate representation.

  • jaspercomp
    June 27, 2019 at 11:07 a.m.

    I have never in my 50+ ever met a census worker, or was involved in a census count....wonder how many other folks haven't?

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    June 27, 2019 at 11:26 a.m.

    its official.
    there is no such thing as a U.S. citizen when the bank is as "real government" as a FedEx(tm)
    you are but a employee of the FED
    your purpose is to feed the world
    feed them bombs
    feed them tears
    it matters not
    you are a number.
    a number that will be annotated heavily depending on race, sex and country of origin.
    good luck little slave. do your best for mexico, iraq, israel.
    dont die too quickly jose hasnt reached jaurez yet.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    June 27, 2019 at 11:28 a.m.

    you guys think the census can be racist? 🤣😂😝
    wait till you find out what theyve been making your genetically white racist evil male children sign, dictate and chant in the "Class-room".

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    June 27, 2019 at 11:34 a.m.

    Rome fell and so will you.
    when slavery or gas chambers comes back remember it will be Popmom the Bolsh`ite who leads the inquisition.
    theyve done it before and they will do it again.
    they are not who they say they are

  • Illinoisroy
    June 27, 2019 at 12:43 p.m.

    Originally the Constitution stated that "Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states … according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, …" 14th amendment changed this to delete Free Men but still don't require citizenship for representation or appropriation purposes.

  • adrink
    June 27, 2019 at 2:49 p.m.

    The Supreme Court dropped the ball on the census question. Citizenship is one of the most important questions that could be asked on the census. A question like that could be used to inform actions to correct the unconstitutional use of illegal immigrants to provide votes in congress and in the electoral college. That practice is outrageous, illegal, and unconstitutional. But as we have already been shown, our deep state chief justice is not up for the constitution or the law - much less justice.

  • PopMom
    June 27, 2019 at 4:17 p.m.

    The census issue is complex. On one hand, only citizens should vote so it would be nice to know how many citizens are in an area when we apportion representatives. On the other hand, the census is used for other reasons such as for informational purposes as to how many people are living in an area and using the roads and other public services etc. The other problem is the fear that citizens will be under counted if one member of the household is afraid to answer questions because one or more members of the household are not citizens. Some families have members who are legal citizens and others are not. Also, the problem in this case is that the impetus for putting the question on the census came from the political people who want to intimidate hispanics from answering census questions and thus dilute the hispanic/mostly Democratic vote. What we need is immigration reform and full disclosure on who everybody is. Trump has all the hispanic people frightened. This is a terrible way to treat so many fine people who are here to work hard.