In a political blow to the Trump administration, the Supreme Court blocked –at least temporarily– the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire.
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., wrote that the explanation offered by the Trump administration for adding the question “appears to have been contrived.”
The 5-4 ruling allows the Trump administration to offer a new rationale for adding the citizenship question. But the government has said that the deadline for printing census forms is rapidly approaching, so it remains unclear whether the administration could do that in time.
Reacting to the Supreme Court decision, President Donald Trump said he will attempt to delay the 2020 census.
“Seems totally ridiculous that our Government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census,” Trump wrote in a tweet Thursday afternoon. “I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United State Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter.”
Early last year, the Trump administration announced it would include the question “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Officials argued that the addition would offer a better count of voting-age citizens in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Critics said the question would discourage non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants, from participating in the national head count.
While the Supreme Court decision sends the citizenship question back to review by a lower court, civil rights and Latino advocacy groups celebrated it as a victory.
“Today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court has for the moment walked our nation back from the brink of a catastrophic disaster that would have inflicted a wound to our Constitution and democracy that may have never healed,” National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials CEO Arturo Vargas said in a statement. “While this victory is far from settled, the nation’s highest court did send a clear message today that future… administrations are not free to make arbitrary and politically motivated decisions at will…”
Citizenship status has not been asked of all U.S. households since the 1950s. However, it is still asked as part of the longer American Community Survey, which only reaches about 13 percent of U.S. households yearly.
The Constitution requires a decennial Census, which is used to allocate hundreds of billions in federal funds for various government-funded programs. In 2015, the California Department of Finance estimated that 80 percent of federal funds received by the state were census-related.
Census data is also used to determine the number of Congressional seats a state gets and how electoral districts are drawn. An undercount would have severe consequences for California. State officials have warned that an undercount could lead to the loss of at least one congressional district and billions in federal funds.
After Thursday’s decision, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state would remain vigilant to ensure an accurate count of its residents in 2020.
“The Census question is more important to California than to any other state,” Newsom said, adding that the state has already committed $187 million in funds to help get the word out and ensure a complete count.
Locally, the Supreme Court decision was celebrated by County Supervisor Hilda Solís, who had scheduled a press conference about the Census count this morning. Solís called the decision a “victory” and said in a tweet that “Everyone must be counted, no matter their status.”