‘The Supreme Court decision was wrong’: AG Barr on 2020 Census citizenship question

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on July 8th, 2019

Washington: Attorney General William Barr said Monday that he believes the Trump administration can legally add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, though the Supreme Court ruled against its inclusion last month.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Barr said he has been in regular contact with President Trump about the question, which the president is determined to see featured on the decennial survey.

“I agree with him that the Supreme Court decision was wrong,” Barr told the AP. The attorney general added that he thinks there is “an opportunity potentially to cure the lack of clarity that was the problem and we might as well take a shot at doing that.”

Barr declined to provide further details to the wire service on how the question will be added to the census.

However, the AP cited a senior official who said President Trump is expected to issue a presidential memorandum to the Commerce Department directing it to include the citizenship question on the 2020 census. Action is expected to be taken in the coming days.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice and Commerce departments for further comment.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling last month, found that the administration’s stated reason for adding the citizenship question to the census didn’t match up with the evidence in the case.

The justices blocked the question from appearing on the survey for the time being but left an opening for the Commerce Department to provide another reason for the question’s inclusion. The Trump administration had claimed the question was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Opponents of the question argued that its inclusion on the census would lead to an inaccurate count of the population, as immigrants might be discouraged from participating. The Department of Justice (DOJ) had argued that the data would not be used for purposes beyond compliance with the voting law, but critics said the perception was enough to cause individuals to skip the question or the survey altogether.

The DOJ initially appeared ready to accept defeat in the legal battles, announcing Tuesday that census materials would be printed without the question. The administration had said in court filings that census materials needed to be finalized by June 30 for a July 1 printing deadline.

But Trump one day later tweeted that those efforts would move forward, appearing to catch even DOJ lawyers on the case by surprise.

“The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president’s position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and Your Honor. I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the president has tweeted,” Joshua Gardner, a DOJ attorney, told a federal judge during a teleconference Wednesday.

“But obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on,” he added.

The DOJ also announced late Sunday that it was pulling its entire legal team for the citizenship question off the case, and replacing them with other government lawyers.

That move has fueled speculation that career DOJ lawyers refused to provide another rationale behind the citizenship question after repeatedly citing the Voting Rights Act in court or that officials feared they would no longer be viewed as trustworthy by judges presiding over the cases.

What is the citizenship question?

“Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

This question has not appeared on a US census for all Americans since 1950, though it has been asked to some subsets of the population between 1970 and 2000.

The population count helps the government draw up districts for state and local elections, and determine how much federal funding each state receives – a matter of hundreds of billions of dollars.

In a 2018 report, Census Bureau researchers found that the inclusion of a citizenship question will likely suppress response rates in households with immigrants and minority groups, leading to a “lower-quality population count”.

But Mr Ross – the billionaire financier who oversees the Census Bureau – insisted that detailed citizenship data is of “greater importance than any adverse effect” posed by an undercount.

Why was citizenship question so controversial?

The heated legal battle over whether to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census has hinged on the motives underlying it.

The White House argued that the decision was made for practical reasons. “When you have a census and you’re not allowed to talk about whether or not somebody’s a citizen or not, that doesn’t sound so good to me,” Mr Trump said to reporters last month.

But critics argue efforts to include the question were politically motivated and say it would have suppressed responses from immigrants and racial minorities.

This would almost certainly benefit the Republican Party when it comes to the drawing-up of districts for elections and calculating how much funding each state receives.

The states with the highest immigration populations, such as California and New Mexico, would have been at the greatest risk of an undercount. Many of these states tend to vote Democrat.

Depressed response rates in these states would allow for electorate boundaries to be redrawn, pulling political power – and funding – away from Democratic-leaning, minority households.

Last week, the Supreme Court wrote in a 5-4 ruling that the Trump administration had not provided adequate justification for the inclusion of the question.

Three federal judges had earlier issued rulings to block the question, one calling it a threat “to the very foundation” of US democracy.

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