Trump says he asked lawyers if census could be delayed after Supreme Court decision on citizenship question
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said on Thursday afternoon that he would attempt to delay the 2020 census following a Supreme Court decision that would send his administration's request to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census back to a lower court, giving opponents another chance to block it.
"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 said in a tweet. "I have asked the 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 this very critical matter," Trump tweeted.
The Constitution requires the population count every 10 years to reapportion seats among the states in the House of Representatives, said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census consultant who covered the Census Bureau for the 2008 Obama Presidential Transition Team. She said the bureau must start the count on time.
The decision:Supreme Court orders further fact-finding on controversial 2020 census citizenship question
Full text of the decision:Read the full text of the Supreme Court's decision to block a census citizenship question
“The census schedule is unforgiving and immutable and it revolves around a day that is set in law for counting the population as of April 1,’’ she said. “Every minute detail of census operations must be carried out according to plan.”
“It cannot change the schedule. It either starts the census on time as planned or it doesn’t take a census next year and that would trigger a Constitutional crisis,” she said.
Jeri Green of the National Urban League noted the logistical challenges of a potential delay. Green said census officials told members of the census advisory group that the Census Bureau will print 1.5 billion pieces of paper, not only questionnaires but guides and other material.
“So there’s an enormous amount of paper that the bureau has been sitting on, waiting for this decision,’’ she said.
“Every day from this point forward is a risk and a threat to every operation of the census not just the printing of the paper, the training of the partnership specialists … Everything has been held up as a result of this question,’’ she said. “I think they will have difficulty getting that done with each day that passes.”
The 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts questioned the administration's rationale for adding the question, calling the reason "contrived."
The administration had cited the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act as the reason for adding the citizenship question to the census, arguing that they needed to gauge an accurate count of citizen voting-age populations in every congressional district. Immigrant advocacy organizations countered by saying that the addition of the question might deter noncitizens from answering the census, potentially creating an "undercount."
"The intimidation of noncitizens against participating in the census will undoubtedly cause an undercount of minority demographics, ultimately defunding our communities and reinforcing political underrepresentation," explained Christine Chen, the executive director of APIAVote, an Asian American civic engagement nonprofit.
The Commerce Department announced the addition of the citizenship question in March 2018 for everyone in the 2020 census. The question would ask if a census respondent were a citizen of the United States. The case was argued at the Supreme Court in late April.
Civil rights groups and Democratic leaders reacted positively to the decision.
House Democratic Whip James Clyburn called the decision "a major victory for democracy" and urged full participation in the census.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer commented on the "abhorrent" motivation for adding the question.
"When even this conservative court determines that the Trump administration’s argument is odious and dishonest, you know the administration’s motivation behind adding the citizenship question in the first place was an abhorrent one," said Schumer.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, said that “Every single person in this country deserves to be counted, plain and simple. We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision today."
Other groups noted the possibility of future litigation but mostly declared victory.
"For all intents and purposes, this is over," said Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project who argued the case before the court. He said "it would be the height of hypocrisy" for the administration to try and offer a new justification for the inclusion of the citizenship question after previously arguing that they had to start printing the forms on Monday.
He said he "wouldn't put anything past them," but if the administration tried to add it again, "we'd be right back in court" and "I like our odds."
Not all were pleased with the decision, however.
Matt Schlapp, the chair of the American Conservative Union and a Trump ally, called for "impeaching the Chief Justice" because of the way the case was decided, adding that "If the census is not about determining the number people legally in the country to determine congressional populations then the most basic idea of a Republic has been destroyed."
Kelly Laco, a Department of Justice spokesperson told USA TODAY in a statement, "We are disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision today. The Department of Justice will continue to defend this Administration's lawful exercises of executive power."
A question on citizenship last appeared in 1950 on all census forms for everyone. Through the 2000 census, the question at times had been asked on the census "long form," which goes to only 1 in 6 households. The question was not asked in the 2010 census at all.
Those opposed to the citizenship question fear it could result in an undercount of some minorities and Hispanics. If they are undercounted, the number of congressional seats and the distribution of federal funds to those areas could be reduced.
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