Trump Administration Drops Citizenship Question From Census

(CN) – Trump administration officials said Tuesday they will move forward with the 2020 census without a question asking about respondents’ citizenship, abandoning its quest to add the controversial query after being blocked last week by the Supreme Court.

(AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith)

Attorneys for the Department of Justice confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the decision had been made to print the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire without the citizenship question, which critics have argued would dramatically chill immigrants of color from participating in the once-in-a-decade survey, weakening political representation and funding in blue states.

The decision to proceed without the controversial question comes as a blow to President Donald Trump, who tweeted last week that he had asked lawyers to delay the census after the Supreme Court ruling.

The administration’s concession comes mere days after the nation’s highest court unanimously affirmed that the Commerce Department must reconsider its move to revive the question that has been kept off the census since 1950.

The opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts partially upheld a January ruling from U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan.

Furman not only ruled that the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the census was “arbitrary and capricious,” but he also found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had abused his discretion.

While the Supreme Court agreed that the evidence plainly undercuts explanations for adding the citizenship question, it reversed the lower court’s finding regarding Ross.

“The choice between reasonable policy alternatives in the face of uncertainty was the secretary’s to make,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the conservative majority on that issue. “He considered the relevant factors, weighed risks and benefits, and articulated a satisfactory explanation for his decision. In overriding that reasonable exercise of discretion, the court improperly substituted its judgment for that of the agency.”

Ross, who has less than a year to go before he will administer the once-a-decade U.S. population count, claimed last year that he added the question at the request of the Justice Department, on the basis that it would better help it enforce the Voting Rights Act.

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

In a statement Tuesday on the decision to proceed without the citizenship question, Ross said: “I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling regarding my decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question. My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census.”

The citizenship question was also challenged in courts in California, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

John Libby, an attorney with Manatt Phelps & Phillips who led efforts in Northern California case, celebrated the news Tuesday.

“We are very pleased that the Trump administration has recognized reality and decided not to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census,” he wrote in a statement. “Aside from the fact that it was not possible for Secretary Ross to state a non-pre-textual basis for his decision over a year after the fact, the government also faced the consequences of its own publicly stated deadline for starting to print the census forms.”

Libby added, “Now everyone in the U.S. will have a chance to be counted, and we urge all to complete and return their census forms next year.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James also applauded the news as “a victory for New York State, for America, and for every single person in this nation.”

“While the Trump administration may have attempted to politicize the census and punish cities and states across the nation, justice prevailed, and the census will continue to remain a tool for obtaining an accurate count of our population,” James said.

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