Supreme Court blocks Trump administration's 2020 census question

The Census Bureau's own experts have predicted that millions of Hispanics and immigrants would go uncounted if the census asked everyone if he or she is an American citizen

June 27, 2019 - 10:01 am
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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is forbidding President Donald Trump's administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census for now. The court says the Trump administration's explanation for wanting to add the question was "more of a distraction" than an explanation.

It's unclear whether the administration would have time to provide a fuller account. Census forms are supposed to be printed beginning next week.

The court ruled 5-4 on Thursday, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberals in the relevant part of the outcome.

A lower court found the administration violated federal law in the way it tried to add a question broadly asking about citizenship for the first time since 1950.

The Census Bureau's own experts have predicted that millions of Hispanics and immigrants would go uncounted if the census asked everyone if he or she is an American citizen.

The Census Bureau would have asked for each member of each household, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?''

There would have been five options for answering: born in the U.S.; born in Guam, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands; born abroad to a parent or parents who are U.S. citizens; born abroad and naturalized in the U.S., born abroad and not a citizen. There's no option for non-citizens to say whether they're in the U.S. legally.

Three federal judges have found the administration violated federal law by acting in an "arbitrary and capricious'' manner in attempting to add the question. Two of the three also found that the effort would violate the constitutional provision requiring a count of the entire population once a decade. The fear is that many immigrants won't take part if they must address their citizenship status, yielding a census with inaccurate numbers.

Advocates for civil liberties and immigrants say the question is untested, unnecessary and part of an effort by President Donald Trump's administration to suppress the count of noncitizens and other foreign-born people. There are also fears that the administration could give the answers to immigration authorities. That would violate federal law and the Census Bureau says it would not do it.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this week on a request from the Census Bureau to ask everyone in the country about citizenship status. The plan has set off litigation and debate and raised some important questions. 

The Census Bureau would ask for each member of each household, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?''

It comes with five options for answering: born in the U.S.; born in Guam, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands; born abroad to a parent or parents who are U.S. citizens; born abroad and naturalized in the U.S., born abroad and not a citizen. There's no option for non-citizens to say whether they're in the U.S. legally.

Three federal judges have found the administration violated federal law by acting in an "arbitrary and capricious'' manner in attempting to add the question. Two of the three also found that the effort would violate the constitutional provision requiring a count of the entire population once a decade. The fear is that many immigrants won't take part if they must address their citizenship status, yielding a census with inaccurate numbers.

Advocates for civil liberties and immigrants say the question is untested, unnecessary and part of an effort by President Donald Trump's administration to suppress the count of noncitizens and other foreign-born people. There are also fears that the administration could give the answers to immigration authorities. That would violate federal law and the Census Bureau says it would not do it.