SCOTUS Blocks Census Question for Now
By Heather Ham-Warren | June 28, 2019
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s plan to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census stating that their explanation for including the question was insufficient. The court also sent the case back to lower courts for further consideration. However additional litigation may be difficult given the administration’s summer deadline that ensures census forms are printed and distributed on time.
Last year, Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the next census form would include a question about whether each person being counted is a U.S. citizen. In his memo, Secretary Ross stated that "for the approximately 90 percent of the population who are citizens, this question is no additional imposition, and for the approximately 70 percent of non-citizens who already answer this question accurately on the [American Community Survey], the question is no additional imposition.” Almost immediately, eighteen states and the District of Columbia, 15 cities and counties, plus the U.S. Conference of Mayors, sued the Commerce Department to block the citizenship question. A second coalition of NGOs led by the New York Immigration Coalition also filed suit.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in April from a coalition of challengers who argued that a citizenship question would greatly reduce participation by immigrant and Latino communities—leading to an inaccurate population count. Alternately, the government maintained in court filings that the data would not be accessible to other parts of the federal government, like immigration officials, and argued that adding the citizenship question would provide the Justice Department with more data to enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
Chief Justice John Roberts—appointed by former President George W. Bush—authored the majority opinion stating that the decision to add the citizenship question was not “substantively invalid…but agencies must pursue their goals reasonably.” Additionally Roberts wrote, “unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived. We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision-making process.”
In a tweet Thursday afternoon, President Trump stated that he will attempt to delay the Census until the Supreme Court makes a final decision on the matter. The decennial population count determines the size of each state’s congressional delegation, as well as the votes each state can cast in the Electoral College. FAIR will continue to monitor this issue as it progresses.