(CN) – President Donald Trump said Thursday afternoon he will abandon efforts to add a controversial question to the 2020 census asking about respondents’ citizenship, opting instead to pursue other methods of getting the data.
In a morning tweet building suspense for the announcement, Trump said he would hold a news conference related to the possibility of including a question about citizenship on the 2020 census— a move that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court just two weeks ago.
The high court found the evidence plainly undercuts the Trump administration’s rationale for adding a citizenship question – that it would better help enforce the Voting Rights Act. The justices ruled that the Commerce Department must reconsider the move, meaning there wouldn’t be enough time to add the question to the 2020 questionnaire.
Backing down from the effort, Trump said from the White House’s Rose Garden that “meritless litigation” delayed adding the citizenship question and he will not sign an executive order reinstating it on the census, a move that would almost certainly draw further legal challenges.
The president said he would instead be signing a different order directing the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, to get the data another way, using information provided by other agencies.
“It is essential that we have a clear breakdown of the citizens or non-citizens,” Trump said.
Attorney General William Barr spoke after Trump, saying it is “completely reasonable and lawful to want to know how many citizens and noncitizens there are in the United States.”
“Including a question on the census is not the only way to obtain this information,” Barr said, acknowledging it is not viable to include the question on next year’s census because of adverse court rulings and the time it takes to print the survey.
The announcement falls in line with recommendations originally made by the Commerce Department last year. Neither Trump nor Barr mentioned the Voting Rights Act during the press conference.
Questions on citizenship can legally be added to a census, as one was included for the last time in 1950. But critics say it would cause many households to be fearful of responding to the census. That could lead to an underrepresentation of minority populations in the once-a-decade survey that is used to guide the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and the direction of billions in federal funding.
The census-related announcement comes hours after a so-called social media summit at the White House that did not include social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter, which experienced an hour-long outage Thursday afternoon.
Trump complained during the summit that “the only thing we can’t ask is are you a citizen of the United States.”