The US Supreme Court ruled last week that the Trump administration cannot include a question about citizenship on the 2020 US Census form — for now.
The controversy surrounds the administration’s plans to include the question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
Critics claim including the question could keep Latinos and other minorities from filling out the census, resulting in urban communities losing millions of dollars in federal funds and congressional seats.
In a 5-4 ruling made along partisan lines, the deeply divided court ruled that while the government has the right to ask a citizenship question, it needs to justify its inclusion in the census.
Siding with the court’s four liberal justices, Chief Justice John Roberts said that there was sufficient reason for concern about why the US Commerce Department wanted to add the question.
“The sole stated reason seems to have been contrived,” Roberts wrote for the majority. “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.”
The Trump administration has claimed that the question was added to collect more detailed citizenship data to better enforce part of the Voting Rights Act.
After the June 27 ruling, President Trump called for a delay to the census until his lawyers could get more information about the question for future court proceedings.
“Can anyone really believe that as a great country, we are not able to ask whether or not someone is a citizen. Only in America!” Trump posted on Twitter.
An undercount could be devastating for those areas. Population counts from the 2020 census will be used to determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets for the next decade. The data will also be used to help distribute nearly $900 billion in federal funding for such things as schools, roads and other public services.
Pasadena and several other cities have been encouraging residents to participate in the census. Those cities have formed what are being called Complete Count Committees (CCCs) which seek out immigrant communities and encourage residents to participate in the census.
Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, who chairs the local CCC, told the Pasadena Weekly that he was pleased and excited about the ruling.
“We’ve already had a couple of meetings ,” Tornek said. “We are very concerned, because we know we were undercounted last time. It is much more daunting because of the climate of fear surrounding the census. We were desperately worried about this question. We have our hands full already and that was going to make it more challenging. I am excited. We allocated city funds, and have funds coming through the county. We have started lining up people and resources to get an accurate count.”
Locally, the census is used to adjust and sometimes redraw local City Council and Pasadena Unified School District boundaries to ensure that the city is complying with federal voting rights laws.
“We hope the federal government avoids taking any action that could dissuade residents from participating in the census count and adversely affect federal funding for vital services and programs they rely on,” said City Manager Steve Mermell. “City staff and community volunteers are undertaking efforts to support the work of the Census Bureau and achieve as accurate a count as possible for Pasadena.”
In 1993, census data led to local political district lines being redrawn to create a district which increased voting opportunities for primarily Latino residents living in an enclave which later became District 5. This was an area of the city which the 1990 census revealed was 27 percent Latino.
“Here in our city, we have been working to ensure that all of our residents, the youngest to the oldest, are counted in the census, and the inclusion of the citizenship question would have presented a significant barrier to full participation,” said Vannia De La Cuba, field representative for District 5 Councilman Victor Gordo. “Today’s SCOTUS decision was an important victory for all of us. An undercount would hurt all communities because the census data are crucial to ensuring equitable distribution of federal funds for a wide range of vital programs, including many programs that provide services for our community here in Pasadena.”
The case was sent back to a New York court for further explanation from the administration, but officials with the Census Bureau claimed they needed to start printing the census forms by July 1.
Federal judges there and in Maryland and California have already ruled against the administration’s proposal.
“This is an incredibly hopeful decision,” said Rector Mike Kinman of All Saints Church, which has vehemently opposed Trump’s immigration policy and vowed to open its doors as a sanctuary for those who fear deportation during immigration raids.
“A question has been effectively denied from the census that would result in taxation without representation for countless people of color, many of whom are part of our community. At least this morning, fear lost and justice won at the highest court in the land.”
Kinman also pointed out that the decision in an example of how the nation is supposed to work.
“The Judicial Branch recognized that the Executive Branch was trying to manipulate the Constitution for its own political ends and very clearly called it out and denied it that chance.”
Six of the bureau’s former directors, who have served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, have warned that adding the citizenship question would jeopardize the accuracy of the population count.
The Trump administration has maintained that the question was added to collect more detailed citizenship data to enforce part of the Voting Rights Act. The district court judges concluded that was not the real reason for the administration’s last-minute push for adding the question.
In May, the daughter of deceased Republican operative Thomas Hofeller revealed that in 2015 Hofeller conducted a private study and concluded that a citizenship question would decrease the political power of Latinos and “be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in the redistricting process.
Hofeller also surmised that employing citizenship data derived from the census would “provoke a high degree of resistance from Democrats and the major minority groups in the nation.”
Hofeller later urged the Trump administration to adopt the question and worked with the administration to help craft its public legal argument that the Census Bureau needed citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Federal judges in California, New York and Maryland are aware of those documents along with the Supreme Court, according to the New Yorker.
“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,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.