In a Rose Garden ceremony on Thursday, July 11, President Trump announced he would drop efforts to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. Instead, he stated his plan to sign an executive order requiring citizenship, non-citizenship, and immigration data from all U.S. agencies to be provided to the Department of Commerce.
“We have great knowledge in many of our agencies. We will leave no stone unturned” Trump said, alongside Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Attorney General Barr stated that the government had “ample justification” to why they would like to require a citizenship question be answered on the census, however, they did not have enough time to fight their case without impeding on the ability for the census to be carried out and distributed on time. Instead, they decided to seek alternate routes to continue with their plan of obtaining this information.
This decision comes after last month’s Supreme Court ruling in Department of Commerce vs. New York which froze President Trump’s plan to add a citizenship question on the census—a form sent to every household in America. The question would read, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
This ruling came, in large part, due to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s issue with the grounds on which Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary, was basing his reasoning for demanding this question, more so than being concerned with the actual contents of the question. Wilbur Ross’ initial argument was that “the question has been a longstanding historical practice asked in some form or another for nearly 200 years,” reported The New York Times. The fact is that this question, when asked on the census, historically, has always been intertwined with issues over race or immigration—a detail Ross did not mention.
With the importance of this form in mind, the Supreme Court believed the reason provided for having this question was artificial and had possible discriminatory intent. It was also doubtful if Wilbur Ross even had the proper authority to make this inclusion in the census and if he had followed the right legal procedures.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his opinion that, “Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.”
According to NPR, this debate had a great deal at stake. Research by the Census Bureau suggested that it would result in an undercount of about 9 million people, all discouraged from taking part in the census, that would affect states and urban areas with large immigrant populations, communities of color and especially, Latinx people, all communities that lean towards voting for Democrats. This would have long term impacts on how political representation and government funding remains until 2030 as census results are used to determine each state’s share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and how billions of dollars are distributed.
Before giving up on the matter entirely and proposing an alternate plan to avoid not completing the census forms on time, Trump was vocal in not backing down. He tweeted his frustration with the situation regarding the citizenship question and appalled that the court required him to provide extensive reasoning.
The Trump reelection campaign even sent emails to supporters that required them to complete an online survey that polled whether or not they thought there should be a question inquiring citizenship status placed in the 2020 census. The email read, “We can’t Keep America Great for all Americans if we don’t know who’s in this country.”
Showing support for the ruling by Chief Justice Roberts were liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. They all believed that Wilbur Ross’ reasoning for adding the question—that it was a request by the Justice Department to help in the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act—was not adequate and it fell apart under examination, said The Washington Post.
NPR also explained that earlier Thursday, the House planned on voting to hold Barr and Ross in contempt of Congress for their refusal to comply with subpoenas relating to key documents relating to the investigation regarding the citizenship question. These documents have the ability to indicate the truth on why the Trump administration wanted this question added. With no valid legal justification for their refusal to comply, both Barr and Ross are urged to comply with these subpoenas before a contempt vote occurs.