The Trump administration on Tuesday said it will print the 2020 census without a question about citizenship, bringing to an apparent close a contentious legal battle over that aspect of the decennial survey.
The announcement comes after the Supreme Court effectively blocked the addition of the question on Thursday. Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the opinion of the court, wrote that the administration’s explanation for adding the question — that it would bolster efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act — appeared “contrived.”
But after that decision was announced, it was not clear whether government lawyers would seek to present another rationale for the question. Any attempt to do so faced a tight deadline. The Census Bureau said it had to begin printing by July 1 or additional resources would be required.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling left little opportunity for the administration to cure the defects with its decision to add a citizenship question and, most importantly, they were simply out of time given the impending deadline for printing forms,” Kristen Clarke, the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which successfully challenged the question in federal court in California, said in a statement.
Critics of the question argued that including it would reduce the accuracy of the census and undercount minority populations, including immigrants. Census data is used to allocate billions of dollars in federal funding and allocate representation in Congress. A citizenship question has not been posed to all U.S. households in decades.
“We can confirm that the decision has been made to print the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire without a citizenship question, and that the printer has been instructed to begin the printing process,” Kate Bailey, an attorney with the Department of Justice, wrote in an email that was sent to challengers of the citizenship question Tuesday and provided to CNBC.
Kelly Laco, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, confirmed that the question will not appear on the census.
Opponents of the question cheered the news.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Trump administration had no choice but to proceed with printing the 2020 census forms without a citizenship question,” Dale Ho, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the case before the top court, said in a statement. “Everyone in America counts in the census, and today’s decision means we all will.”
President Donald Trump said Thursday that he was considering delaying the census, though he did not present a legal basis to do so. Democrats opposed any delay of the census, and argued such a move without congressional approval would be unlawful.
In a statement, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who co-chairs the House Census Caucus, said the “ominous storm cloud over the census has been lifted.”
“This Administration is finally following the law. Moving forward with the 2020 Census without the citizenship question brings us a step closer to a full and accurate count,” Maloney said.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, said in a statement that “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,” Ross said.