A Key 2020 Census Decision Will Arrive Soon

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During President Donald J. Trump’s tenure, the president has found himself embroiled in so many controversies that each individual one can be difficult to track. In light of recent concerns about immigrant treatment and the potential for war with Iran, it can be easy to forget how much backlash the administration has faced while pursuing its intent to include a citizenship question on the U.S. census.

Almost from the very moment the Trump administration announced its plans to include this question on the 2020 census, arguments emerged saying that this move would discourage Latinx Americans from participating in the census. Decreased Latinx participation could allow congressional district borders to be redrawn in ways that shift votes in favor of Republican candidates and policies. Furthermore, the last census in which a citizenship question was included was in 1950, not long after the widespread establishment of Japanese internment camps and right as the Red Scare was dominating American political discourse.

As soon as today, the Supreme Court is set to determine whether the backlash to this question will actually result in its exclusion from the census. On June 25th, the Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to hasten its decision on the matter. According to the Justice Department, rulings on the case in lower courts have necessitated the expediting of the Supreme Court’s verdict. Just prior to the Justice Department’s memo, an appeals court returned one of the many lawsuits regarding the citizenship question to a lower district court judge. The Justice Department appears intent on issuing a final Supreme Court ruling on the case before the district judge can consider it.

In the memo that the Justice Department sent to the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ attempts to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census are entirely constitutional. Francisco further stated the the government’s pressing need to print the census forms for use in next year’s national survey mandates that the court address this case immediately. 

Civil rights groups suggested that Francisco’s letter is proof that the Trump administration is trying to unfairly fast-track a pivotal Supreme Court case by asking the justices to vote on a matter that hasn’t yet been formally presented to them. These groups also noted that Francisco is overstating the urgency of the government’s printing needs, as the Census Bureau’s chief scientist has said on the record that, given additional resources, there would be no issue printing census forms as late as October.

The current appeals court controversy stems from new evidence suggesting that, as opponents have claimed, the citizenship question is indeed a deliberate Trump administration move to diminish the voting power of Latinx people. In the case brought to the appeals court, the plaintiffs gained new access to communications the Justice Department and GOP redistricting expert Thomas Hofeller. This new evidence suggests that Hofeller encouraged the Justice Department to issue the order that eventually led to Ross adding the citizenship question.

The Supreme Court’s verdict on the citizenship question is expected to arrive momentarily. Some say that approving the addition of the citizenship question to the census would all but confirm that the Supreme Court is no longer an impartial branch capable of proper checks and balances on the executive branch.

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