Posted on June 27, 2019

Supreme Court Blocks Citizenship Question in 2020 Census for Now

Ronn Blitzer and Adam Shaw, Fox News, June 27, 2019

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked, for now, the Trump administration’s plan to include a question on the 2020 census that inquires about a person’s citizenship status.

The court said the administration’s explanation for adding such a question is insufficient and sent it back to the lower courts for further consideration. The ruling marks a setback for the administration, though the issue is not yet resolved.

Still, while further lower-court litigation is possible, it would be very difficult for the administration to get the question on the census in time for the forms to be printed by the government’s own self-declared summer deadline.

The 5-4 court majority raised concerns about the Trump administration’s explanations for their proposal. The ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, said that the court was presented “with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decisionmaking process.”

He added that the court “cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given.”

The Supreme Court majority concluded the executive branch has broad authority to decide what goes onto the census, saying the survey routinely asks a range of questions on the form, beyond the number of people in a household. {snip}


He continued: “In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency).”


{snip} More specifically, there were questions as to whether he violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which sets standards for how federal agencies make changes, or the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution, which says that congressional representatives are apportioned to states based on their populations’ “numbers” and “persons.”


The four left-leaning Supreme Court justices also noted experts at the Census Bureau have said the citizenship question could lead to an undercount of as many as 6.5 million, especially in urban areas.

The Trump administration claimed that the question is necessary because it would help with enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which deals with voting practices that discriminate based on race. The idea behind this is that having this data would help prevent the drawing of congressional maps in ways that discriminate against minority citizens of voting age.


The census did include a citizenship question of sorts in the past, but not since 1950. Then, people were asked about their place of birth, and if it was outside the United States they were then asked if they had been naturalized.

Trump tweeted in April that the Census Report would be “meaningless” without the citizenship question.