The Trump administration admitted defeat on Tuesday, confirming that forms for the 2020 U.S. census will not include a question asking residents who respond to the survey if they are U.S. citizens. The change of plans follows last week’s Supreme Court decision that the Commerce Department had failed to provide a valid reason for adding the question.
The news was conveyed in an email from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to lawyers who had contested the effort in lawsuits, and confirmed to The Intercept by Kelly Laco, a spokesperson for the division.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the government had no choice but to proceed with printing the 2020 census forms without a citizenship question,” Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, told The Intercept after receiving the email. “Everyone in America counts in the census, and today’s decision means we all will,” he added.
Five days after Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s justification for adding the citizenship question was “contrived,” Ross said in a statement that he disagreed with the ruling, but “the Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question.”
As Sam Adler-Bell explained in The Intercept last week, the Supreme Court majority seemed to agree with legal observers that the Commerce Department’s claim that it needed to add a citizenship question to enforce the Voting Rights Act “was pre-textual, a post-hoc scheme by Trump officials to obscure their real motive: to suppress participation in the census and allow them to gerrymander districts to maintain white minority rule.”
The decision is a victory for voting rights advocates who argued that asking about citizenship status would have a chilling effect and lower response rates among immigrants, leaving their communities underrepresented in Congress.
Ho made that case in a recent public service announcement.
“The Trump Administration dropping its discriminatory and unnecessary citizenship question from the Census is a victory for equal representation in our democracy,” Eric Holder, a U.S. former attorney general, said in a statement released by his National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at University of California Irvine, wrote on Twitter that it is possible, but unlikely, that President Donald Trump could still try to delay the count, even after the printing of the census survey has started.
Still, in cases like equal protection case in district court/4th circuit, if I were a lawyer for the plaintiffs I'd want more than just an indication the forms are being printed. I'd want a concession that there will be no further attempts to add citizenship question to census.— Rick Hasen (@rickhasen) July 2, 2019
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, hailed the decision to proceed with the census despite recent threats from the president that he might seek to delay the count until the administration could find a reason to justify asking about citizenship status. Schumer also promised oversight of the count.
Democrats in Congress will be watching the Trump administration like a hawk to ensure there is no wrong-doing throughout this process and that every single person is counted.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 2, 2019
The Commerce Department’s claim that it was merely seeking to uphold the Voting Rights Act was undermined last month when plaintiffs discovered files on the computer of a deceased Republican political strategist, Thomas Hofeller, who had urged the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the census. Among the files was a study in which Hofeller wrote that a citizenship question could increase Republican political power by excluding noncitizen residents and American citizens not yet old enough to vote from the census data used to redraw political boundaries every 10 years.