President Trump Seeks to Delay 2020 Census After Supreme Court Blocks Citizenship Question

June 27, 2019 Updated: June 27, 2019

President Donald Trump said on June 27 that he is seeking to delay the 2020 Census following the Supreme Court’s decision to block his administration from adding a citizenship question to the nationwide questionnaire for now.

“Seems totally ridiculous that our government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census, in this case for 2020. I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter,” the president said in reaction to the high court judgment.

“Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!” he added.

The high court’s decision to bar the question, for now, is a setback for the Trump administration, who wanted to restore the question—it had been part of the Census until the 1950s and is well-tested in another annual questionnaire given to some participants—in order to get an accurate count of citizens in each locale to determine the allocation of congressional seats and taxpayer funds.

The administration had argued that the question about a person’s citizenship is needed to better enforce a voting rights law (VRA). A group of states including New York and immigrant rights organizations sued to prevent the question.

The court ruled 5-4 on June 27, where Chief Justice John Roberts joined four liberals in the relevant part of the outcome. In its ruling (pdf), Roberts, who authored the majority opinion, said the administration’s rationale for adding the question was insufficient and described it as “more of a distraction” than an explanation.

“Unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived,” Roberts wrote in the ruling. “We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision-making process.”

He then added that the court “cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given.”

“The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law, after all, is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public,” he said. “Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.”

The court sent the case back to the lower court to be reconsidered.

Although the Trump administration could possibly re-argue the case in the lower courts, it is unclear whether it would have enough time to get the question on the Census form, since the forms are supposed to be printed beginning next week.

The Supreme Court case arose from a trial in a District Court in New York that found Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, one of the defendants in the case, had violated federal law by acting arbitrarily and also did not follow procedure. The appeal in the high court considered whether Ross had violated “the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution, the Census Act, or otherwise abused his discretion.” The Enumeration Clause of the Constitution states that representatives in Congress are apportioned to states based on its respective population.

The Constitution requires the Census to be collected every 10 years. This information gathered from the questionnaire helps determine representation in Congress based on their respective populations, as well as the allocation of federal government funding. The United States previously collected people’s citizenship status from 1820 to 1950.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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