Trump Administration to Print 2020 Census Forms Without Citizenship Question

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
July 2, 2019 Updated: July 3, 2019

Update July 3: Since the publishing of this report, President Donald Trump has responded to the news that the Census form will be printed without the question, saying that he had instructed the Commerce and Justice Departments to continue to pursue efforts to add a citizenship question. Please read updates here.

The Trump administration said on July 2 they will begin printing 2020 census forms without the citizenship question. This comes days after the Supreme Court blocked the administration from being able to include it onto the nationwide questionnaire.

Former Obama White House lawyer Daniel Jacobson first made the announcement in a Twitter post on July 2. He posted a screenshot of an email from DOJ attorney Kate Bailey who confirmed the decision to print the forms without the question.

“We can confirm that the decision has been made to print the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire without a citizenship question, and that the printer has been instructed to begin the printing process,” Bailey wrote in the email.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco told the Associated Press that there would be “no citizenship question on 2020 census.”

Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox News in a statement that he “strongly disagree[s]” with the Supreme Court, while confirming that the process of printing the forms had begun.

“I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling regarding my decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 Census,” Ross told the news outlet.

“The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question. My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census,” he added.

This follows President Donald Trump’s announcement in a Twitter post on June 27 that he is seeking to delay the 2020 Census after the high court rejected the administration’s rationale for restoring the question.

“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 Supreme 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.

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.

Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.