Supreme Court Ruling: Trump Admin. Cannot Add Citizen Question


The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the Trump administration cannot add a question on the 2020 U.S. census asking whether or not someone is a citizen of the United States. The ruling in Department of Commerce v. New York was issued on Thursday, June 27, the last day of the Supreme Court’s summer 2019 session. It is still unclear whether the Trump administration would have time to come up with a justification for the question.  

The Trump administration seeks to ask all recipients of the 2020 U.S. Census whether they are citizens of the United States. This would be the first time since 1950 that such a question would appear. Critics of the question believe that it would discourage immigrant, minority, and undocumented households from participating in the Census. This would lead to widespread under-counting and massive shifts in political representation. On the other hand, the administration believes that the question is a necessary and proper one. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross approved of the question over a year ago, arguing that a citizenship question would help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court, ruling 5-4 against the question, found that the Trump administration’s justification for the question was mostly for political reasons and therefore unconstitutional. Chief Justice Roberts stated in the Court’s opinion that the administration must offer “genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public.” Nonetheless, the Court stated that citizenship questions would be allowed under both the Constitution and Census Act if the Trump administration can offer a valid and appropriate reason why.

It is still unclear exactly what the Trump administration’s response to the ruling will be. There have been reports that President Trump is seeking a delay in the 2020 census instead of taking other legal or political measures. The Census forms are scheduled to be printed at the end of June.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will likely have substantial political impact. The U.S. Census, held every 10 years, is used to determine the size of every state’s congressional delegation and their number of electoral votes for presidential elections. The data is also used to calculate how federal government funding is distributed to each state for its educational, health care, and infrastructure systems. Furthermore, the Census Bureau has stated that the question would likely lead to less households, especially those with non-U.S. citizen members, participating in the Census. States with large immigrant and undocumented populations could have lost Congressional representation and faced large cuts to federal funding.

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