The Trump administration is dropping plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Justice Department confirmed Tuesday just days after the Supreme Court described the rationale for the question as “contrived.”
The decision to back away from the controversial question was a victory for civil rights advocates concerned that the query would lead to an inaccurate count of immigrant communities that could skew political representation and federal funding.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the government had no choice but to proceed with printing the 2020 census forms without a citizenship question. Everyone in America counts in the census, and today’s decision means we all will,” attorney Dale Ho of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.
The fate of the question has been the subject of legal and political wrangling since March 2018, when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced he planned to add it to the decennial survey, sparking a half-dozen lawsuits from states, cities, civil rights groups and others.
Just last week, Trump responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling by saying he would seek to delay the census to give administration officials time to come up with a better explanation for why it should include a citizenship question.
Instead, government lawyers notified those challenging the question of the decision to proceed without it.
Critics of the question, including some inside the Census Bureau, say it could cause an undercount of millions of people in immigrant communities who would be afraid to return the form, leading to an inaccurate count that could skew representation and apportionment in favor of Republican areas.
The government has said it needs the question in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act, and Ross initially told Congress he decided to add it in response to a December 2017 request from the Justice Department. But documents uncovered in the lawsuits suggested Ross was pushing for it months earlier and that he pressed the Justice Department to issue the request.
Data from the census, which every U.S. household is required to fill out, is used by businesses and by the government to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in federal spending per year; it is also used to determine Congressional apportionment and redistricting. The form that goes to all households has not included a question related to citizenship since 1950.
The notice from the government came just hours before lawyers were scheduled for a conference call in a separate case challenging the census question in Maryland.