Supreme Court Blocks Trump Administration From Asking About Citizenship on Census

President Donald Trump calls for delaying census in order to give Supreme Court another opportunity to hear case
By Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.
June 27, 2019 Updated: June 27, 2019

Minutes after the Supreme Court narrowly rejected the administration’s rationale for asking individuals responding to the 2020 Census whether they are U.S. citizens, President Donald Trump criticized the court’s decision and suggested delaying the census to give officials a chance to satisfy the court’s concerns.

The census counts both legal and illegal residents of the United States, and is important because the results are used to allocate federal dollars and determine representation in Congress.

Republicans and Democrats have locked horns for decades over how the census is carried out. Democrats accuse Republicans of scheming to undercount minorities and illegal aliens, while Republicans say Democrats try to inflate the headcount for political advantage.

Democrats and left-leaning activists say the citizenship question would chill respondents and prevent a proper headcount. Critics say the respondents the Democrats are worrying about are illegal aliens.

The Trump administration previously told the court that the issue had to be resolved by the end of June so printing of the census questionnaires could proceed on time, but some say month’s end is not a hard deadline and printing could wait until October, which is when the court begins hearing oral arguments in its new term.

Minutes after the Supreme Court ruled June 27 in Department of Commerce v. New York, Trump tweeted his displeasure with the decision.

“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. 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!”


In a complex, fractured ruling, the Supreme Court left open the possibility that the citizenship question could ultimately be included in the once-a-decade census.

Backed by the four liberal justices, Chief Justice John Roberts rejected the administration’s claim that the citizenship question was needed to gather data to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, writing the rationale “seems to have been contrived.”

The “explanation” was “incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision-making process. … we cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given.”

In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, wrote that the court overreached.

The court’s role was to decide if Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross provided the legally required explanation for including the citizenship question, he wrote.

But in this case, the court “goes further” and “[for] the first time ever … invalidates an agency action solely because it questions the sincerity of the agency’s otherwise adequate rationale.

“Unable to identify any legal problem with the Secretary’s reasoning, the Court imputes one by concluding that he must not be telling the truth,” Thomas wrote.

“The Court’s holding reflects an unprecedented departure from our deferential review of discretionary agency decisions,” Thomas wrote. “And, if taken seriously as a rule of decision, this holding would transform administrative law.”

It is easy “for political opponents of executive actions to generate controversy with accusations of pretext, deceit, and illicit motives. … Crediting these accusations on evidence as thin as the evidence here could lead judicial review of administrative proceedings to devolve into an endless morass of discovery and policy disputes not contemplated by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

“The Court, I fear, will come to regret inventing the principles it uses to achieve today’s result,” Thomas concluded.

‘Judicial Interference’

Immigration watchdog groups reacted by expressing disbelief and questioning the wisdom of the court ruling.

“This is incredible,” Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told The Epoch Times.

“The Census Bureau can ask how many bedrooms your house has, and where you usually sleep? But not if you’re a U.S. citizen? This is just another example of the judiciary being used for political purposes, and substituting its judgment for those officials empowered by Congress to make the ultimate decision.”

Stein said that “including the citizenship question would enable taxpayers to understand the cost of immigration in their states and cities.”

“This is an important public policy consideration. A Supreme Court is engaging in inappropriate judicial interference in matters committed to the Trump administration’s discretion.”

Stein lamented that it increasingly “seems like the judiciary is running the United States government. They do so through intervention and omission. It is clear that a politicized judiciary is trying to take from this president powers which have been historically and routinely dedicated to the executive branch.”

Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said concerns about the citizenship question were “overblown.”

“There is no clear evidence that it would have had any effect on response rate to the census,” he told The Epoch Times in an interview.

On its monthly survey, which goes to more than 50,000 households, the Census Bureau already asks respondents much more “intrusive questions, such as where were you born, when did you come to the U.S., and what country were your mother and father born in.”

Data from the monthly survey are used to generate reports on the U.S. labor market, including on employment rates, poverty, income, and health insurance coverage, Camarota said.

“No one has suggested” that such Census Bureau reports are inaccurate just because questions more intrusive than citizenship were added, he said.

Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.