Census Won’t Have Citizenship Question
The Trump Administration has officially conceded to the rule of law.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling last week that the Commerce Secretary’s pretext for including a citizenship question on the Census a transparent lie, President Trump signaled via Twitter that he might delay the survey or otherwise find a way to include it. Yesterday evening, though, the Census Bureau raised the truce flag.
After two years of controversy and litigation, the Justice Department on Tuesday confirmed that the Trump administration will abandon its effort to add a question on citizenship to the looming 2020 decennial census.
Following last week’s Supreme Court ruling blocking—at least temporarily—the plan as ill-explained, news reports broke that the Justice Department had notified legal challengers of the decision one day after the deadline for launching the printing process that had been set months ago by Census Bureau professionals.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in a statement provided to Government Executive, said “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.”
Trump officials had justified the addition of the question originally as a tool requested by Justice to aid in enforcing the Voting Rights Act. But critics in the civil rights and statistical community, and many Democratic lawmakers concerned about voter district reapportionment in 2021, blasted the proposal as a way to depress response rates and reduce Latino voter impact, which they assume aids Democrats.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, immediately issued a statement saying he was “encouraged that administration officials had dropped President Trump’s unconstitutional plan to postpone the Census just because he lost the Supreme Court case. The Trump Administration put our country through more than a year of wasted time and squandered resources—all in the service of an illegal attempt to add a discriminatory question based on a pretext. Now they need to direct all their attention to the nuts and bolts of putting on the Census next year. The Census Bureau has a responsibility under the Constitution to get an accurate count.”
Cummings’ panel is still seeking Census and Justice documents on how the proposal was developed.
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference Education Fund, said, “The people have spoken, the courts have spoken, and finally, the Trump administration has conceded—there will be no 2020 Census citizenship question. This is a victory for all those who fought so hard against this partisan ploy to weaponize the census and rig our democracy. Now we double down on the work to ensure a fair and accurate count.”—Government Executive, “Census Will Print 2020 Survey Without Citizenship Question“
That it’s newsworthy that the Executive branch of government is going to comply with the decision of the Supreme Court is a rather sad commentary of where our national politics stand. But I fully expected the Administration to delay printing the survey for several months in order to manufacture a new, more plausible pretext for including the question.
As with so many of Trump’s ill-advised, mean-spirited initiatives, including this question on the Census was obviously well within his power. That the professionals at the Census Bureau cautioned that it would surely diminish the participation of Latinos and thus thwart the fundamental purpose of the census made it bad policy; it didn’t make it illegal. But even decisions within the purview of the President or his cabinet secretaries have to comply with legal requirements, notably the Administrative Procedures Act. They had more than enough time to staff this properly, issue a rationale that wasn’t a transparent lie, and secure five or more votes on the Supreme Court vindicating his prerogative. Instead, he suffered another embarrassing defeat.