By Caitlyn Oprysko
The Trump administration confirmed Friday that it will press forward with efforts to add a citizenship question to next year’s census, with President Donald Trump saying he’s exploring the possibility of reviving the question via executive order and government lawyers telling a federal judge that they’ve “been asked to reevaluate all available options.”
“We’re thinking about doing that. It’s one of the ways,” Trump said of the prospective executive order as he prepared to depart the White House for his New Jersey golf club. “We have four or five ways we could do it. It’s one of the ways and we’re thinking about doing it very seriously.”
The Trump administration’s plans to add such a question to the decennial census were dealt a surprise blow last week by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Trump administration’s “explanation for agency action” was “incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decison making process” and ordered government lawyers to present a more truthful explanation to a lower court. Chief Justice John Roberts, siding with the court’s four liberals, wrote the majority opinion.
In a court filing Friday, lawyers for the Justice Department confirmed that both DOJ and the Commerce Department were still weighing “whether the Supreme Court’s decision would allow for a new decision to include the citizenship question.” The filing reiterated what the lawyers told U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel Wednesday, after the president contradicted the government’s earlier assertion that it would drop efforts to include the question on next year’s survey.
When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross formally added the citizenship question last year, he said the information was needed to assist the Justice Department with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.
But civil rights groups, Democratic-led state governments, and lower court judges said DOJ had expressed little interest in that data before or after it backed Ross’s move. Experts said adding the question would decrease the accuracy of voting-age citizen data because the query would lead a substantial number of people to avoid the entire survey.
The Supreme Court majority agreed that the administration’s stated reason was not believable, with Roberts saying it appeared “contrived” and “a distraction.”
Trump came close to admitting as much when he was asked Friday why he believed the question was needed. “You need it for many reasons,” the president responded. “Number one, you need it for Congress, you need it for Congress, for districting. You need it for appropriations — where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens or are they not citizens?”
The Constitution states that apportionment for congressional seats be based on “persons” — not citizens. Trump’s statement could be seen as bolstering the claims of opponents of the question that the administration’s true purpose in adding the question is to diminish the political power of Latinos and other immigrants, who tend to reside in areas represented by Democrats.
Acting director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli on Friday also appeared to undermine the administration’s earlier justifications for the question.
“Frankly, as part of the ongoing debate over how we deal financially and legally with the burden of those who are not here legally,” he said on Fox Business in a defense of why the question was necessary, calling it “a relevant issue.”
The Justice Department announced after last week’s Supreme Court decision that census forms would be printed without the citizenship question, a position backed up as late as Tuesday night by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the census. But those announcements were rendered moot Wednesday by the president, who declared via Twitter that his administration would continue fighting to include the question.
“The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!” the president wrote online, adding that “We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”