President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was moving ahead with adding a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 US census in a dramatic reversal after his own administration including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a day earlier that the plan had been dropped.
Following Trump's announcement, made in a defiant Twitter post, a senior US Justice Department lawyer told a Maryland-based federal judge overseeing litigation in the matter that the administration was seeking a path forward to add a citizenship question after the Supreme Court last Thursday blocked it.
The Supreme Court found that administration officials had given a contrived rationale for including the query in the decennial population survey. Administration officials including Ross said on Tuesday that census forms were being printed without the question included.
Critics have called the citizenship question a Republican ploy to scare immigrants into not taking part in the census and engineer a population undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant and Latino populations. That would benefit non-Hispanic whites and help Trump's fellow Republicans gain seats in the US House of Representatives and state legislatures when new electoral district boundaries are drawn after the census, the critics said.
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! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question, Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump's hard-line policies on immigration have been a key element of his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign. Trump last Thursday also said he was exploring whether the census, which the US Constitution requires be carried out every 10 years, can be delayed.
We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward consistent with the Supreme Court decision that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census, Assistant Attorney General Joseph Hunt told Maryland-based US District Court Judge George Hazel on Wednesday.
Hunt did not make clear who issued the instruction.
The Justice Department on Tuesday had told Hazel that the administration had made a final decision not to proceed with the citizenship question, according to two lawyers involved in the litigation. The judge then held a call with lawyers in the case after Trump's Wednesday announcement.
We think there may be a legally available path under the Supreme Court's decision. We're examining that, looking at near-term options to see whether that's viable and possible, Hunt said.
Hazel said he wants a final response by Friday afternoon on whether the government will press ahead with adding the citizenship question. Otherwise, legal claims accusing administration officials of being motivated by racial bias in adding the citizenship question will move forward.
Hazel refused to allow the government more time to respond.
Opponents of the question condemned Trump's announcement.
Another day, another attempt to sow chaos and confusion, New York's Democratic Attorney General Letitia James, who is involved in the legal challenge, said. The Supreme Court of the United States has spoken, and Trump's own Commerce Department has spoken. It's time to move forward to ensure every person in the country is counted.
Citizenship status has not been asked of all households since the 1950 census. Since then, it has been included only on questionnaires sent to a smaller subset of the population.
A group of states including New York and immigrant rights organizations challenged the legality of the citizenship question. Hazel, Furman and a third judge all issued rulings blocking the question, prompting the administration's Supreme Court appeal.