The 2020 US Census will not include a citizenship question

People gather in in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as decisions are handed down on June 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. 

It’s a major win for Democrats and activists.

In a major win for Democrats and activists — and disappointment for President Donald Trump — the US Census will not include a citizenship question the next time it is conducted in 2020.

This decision, announced by former Obama White House counsel Daniel Jacobson on Tuesday, comes in the wake of a Supreme Court decision last week, which temporarily barred the addition of a citizenship question, noting that the Trump administration’s reasoning for adding it didn’t pass muster. The court did not, however, forbid the White House from including the question. Instead, it simply asked for it to come up with better evidence for why it wanted to add the query to the standard census for the first time since 1950.

At that point, the administration was forced to make a choice, Vox’s Dara Lind reports: Either it could move forward with the Census, sans citizenship question, and meet a June 30 deadline for completing the needed forms. Or it could attempt to cobble together more evidence to prove why it wanted a citizenship question and try to secure a court decision in its favor, while delaying the kickoff of the Census printing process until as late as October.

Trump responded to the decision by repeatedly arguing that delays to the Census might be necessary and said he had asked the “lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long.”

But on Tuesday, a trial attorney at the Department of Justice notified attorneys representing the plaintiffs, including Jacobson, that the government would be taking the former route, moving forward with the Census without the citizenship question. “The printer has been instructed to begin the printing process,” the email read. Jacobson shared the message on Twitter.

Here’s the email from DOJ pic.twitter.com/PdyfK0a1hJ

— Daniel Jacobson (@Dan_F_Jacobson) July 2, 2019

The government’s decision to omit the Census question — instead of continuing the fight —marks a huge victory for activists, who argued that adding it would scare millions of immigrants off of filling out their mandatory surveys and skew the population counts used to draw Congressional districts.

The fight over the citizenship question on the Census, briefly explained

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been at the forefront of pushing the addition of a citizenship question to the Census. According to Ross, the reason officials wanted to do this was to ensure that residents were not being discriminated against under the Voting Rights Act. As his argument went, if government officials knew where citizens and non-citizens lived, they could ensure that non-citizens weren’t subject to discrimination.

Ross, however, had little evidence to suggest that this was the actual reason that government officials wanted to add this question, Dara Lind and Libby Nelson write for Vox:

The Trump administration claims it needs to ask the question to collect the data for the Justice Department to enforce the Voting Rights Act. But Democrats worry the real motivation is to discourage noncitizens from responding, skewing the population counts used to draw Congressional districts and eventually giving Republicans a bigger electoral advantage.

The discovery of hard drives from a Republican operative that included a study on the effect of drawing state legislative districts based on the citizen population pointed to another political advantage Republicans could gain and added to a pile of evidence about the administration’s original intent. With census data on citizenship, the Republican operative, Thomas Hofeller, wrote, conservative states with large immigrant populations could vote to exclude non-citizens from the count they use to draw state legislative districts, consolidating Republican statehouse control.

In short, the evidence suggested that Ross looked for a justification for the question after deciding to add it. This exact issue was the reason that the Supreme Court justices wound up ruling that the administration could not add a citizenship question to the Census using its current rationale.

The pushback toward the addition of the citizenship question was driven by a slew of states and advocacy groups. They were concerned that the addition of this question would scare off immigrants from participating in the Census and that the data would be used to apportion Congressional seats in a way that factored in the citizens in each state:

Voting rights advocates fear that generating citizenship data from the “actual enumeration” of the census would give the federal government the information it needed to apportion congressional seats based on how many citizens lived in each state, rather than how many people — something that would likely hurt Texas and California.

It could also encourage state efforts to draw congressional districts based on citizen population. The Supreme Court has routinely ruled that states are allowed to use total population when drawing districts — including in a 2016 decision where the Court sided 8-0 with Texas’s use of total population — but it hasn’t explicitly said that they have to.

While the Supreme Court decision did not explicitly prohibit the addition of the citizenship question on the Census, it ultimately helped lead to its omission.

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