- The US Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
- The push to add the citizenship question began when the Commerce Department, led by Wilbur Ross, persuaded the Justice Department to argue that it would be necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
- Three federal judges have ruled that the administration would violate the Administrative Procedure Act by adding the question and that the question would violate the Constitution’s enumeration clause by hindering the accuracy of the census.
- Further litigation over whether the citizenship question discriminates against minority groups in violation of the equal protection clause will continue in the lower courts.
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The United States Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 US census – but it could be temporary.
The case, United States Department of Commerce v. New York, is one of the biggest of the year, and the administration has had a tumultuous legal battle to include the controversial question.
Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross didn’t give proper reasoning for adding the citizenship question but that the Trump administration could prevail in adding it if it gave a better explanation. The case will go back to the lower courts with the justices’ guidance.
It was a complex ruling, with the justices agreeing and disagreeing on several points. Some parts were unanimous, while others fell along ideological lines.
The push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census began when the Commerce Department persuaded the Justice Department to argue that it would be necessary to enforce the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other government entities and groups quickly sued over the administration’s plans, arguing that it would violate administrative procedure in adding the question.
States and immigrant-rights groups sued, arguing that adding the citizenship question would result in an inaccurate census
The Census Bureau’s internal research has found that a citizenship question would suppress census participation among Latinx and undocumented people, meaning that states and areas with high concentrations of such residents could stand to lose federal funding, congressional districts, and electoral votes.
Since then, federal judges in New York, California, and Maryland have sided with states and groups challenging the administration, ruling that its addition of the question would be “arbitrary and capricious” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, leading the Trump administration to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
In April, US District Judge George Hazel found that the question would “cause a differential decline in Census participation among noncitizen and Hispanic households,” according to The Associated Press.
A month earlier, the judge in California ruled that not only did Ross violate the Administrative Procedure Act on multiple fronts, but that the question would violate the enumeration clause of the US Constitution because it would “significantly impair” the Census Bureau’s ability to accurately count the population.
New evidence from a dead man’s computer files emerged after the case was argued
Litigation over the citizenship question will also continue in the lower courts because of a development in May that uncovered possible motivations for adding the citizenship question.
The plaintiffs said they got new evidence from a hard drive owned by Thomas Hofeller, a Republican operative who died last year. Hofeller was heavily involved in advising Trump transition officials on the citizenship question, writing a portion of a draft memo that was later used as part of the administration’s justification that it was necessary to uphold the Voting Rights Act.
In one 2015 study discovered on the hard drive, Hofeller modelled hypothetical Texas electoral maps based on population surveys that counted only the voting-age population instead of the total population. (The Department of Justice has argued that there is insufficient evidence that Hofeller showed his research to Trump administration officials.)
According to The New York Times, Hofeller found that such a plan – which would not include noncitizen Latinx Texans or their children in drawing districts – “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” by allocating fewer congressional representatives for majority Latinx and Democratic-voting areas.
Hofeller wrote that this plan would be “functionally unworkable” without “a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire,” The Times reported.
After the emergence of the Hofeller documents, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to Hazel in Maryland to examine whether the Trump administration was engaged in a conspiracy to discriminate against racial minorities in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause based on the new evidence, a legal question that did not come before the Supreme Court in oral arguments in April.