July 3, 2019

UPDATED: Trump backs off decision to abandon citizenship question

Matthew Reichbach

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall listen to local elected officials and stakeholders in Los Lunas.

UPDATE: Wednesday afternoon, the federal government reversed their decision on whether to continue pursuing the controversial citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

Trump wrote on Twitter, “We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”

And attorneys for the federal government told the court they had not heard of Trump’s position on this before his tweet.

Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), which represents plaintiffs in the suit that reached the Supreme Court, reacted to the federal government’s reversal:

“Under this administration, there’s no accounting for doubling down on stupid. Unfortunately, and embarrassingly for our nation, today’s reversal from yesterday’s certainty repeats the pattern of this entire affair, which began with Secretary Wilbur Ross — who inexplicably remains in the Cabinet — lying to Congress and the public about the reason for the late attempted addition of a citizenship question to Census 2020. MALDEF is fully prepared to demonstrate in court that racism is the true motivation for adding the question, and by doing so, to prevent the question from appearing on the Census.”

The story, as originally written, is below.

There will not be a question about U.S citizenship on the 2020 Census, the Trump administration announced Wednesday.

The case of adding the controversial question made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against the inclusion last week, saying they did not believe the federal government’s stated rationale for including the question.

While some observers believed the high court’s decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, opened the door for the government to bring it back before the court ahead of printing the questions, the Trump administration instead decided to move forward without it.

President Donald Trump said on Twitter after the Supreme Court decision that he told his lawyers to delay the Census, which must happen every ten years according to the U.S. Constitution, until the court could be given more information.

The announcement Wednesday was a full reversal of that stance.

The U.S. Constitution says the census was to count the total amount of people, not just those who are legal citizens.

Decennial census numbers are used not only for redistricting, which will take place in 2021, but also for allocating billions of dollars in federal funds for programs like Medicare.

Opponents of the citizenship question said its inclusion would depress the results from Hispanic voters, giving an inaccurate count.

The federal Commerce Department, which runs the U.S. Census Bureau, argued the citizenship question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That idea was rejected by federal courts up to and including the Supreme Court.

A cache of files from deceased Republican gerrymandering expert Thomas Hofeller showed that he believed the question was needed to help implement drawing districts in Texas that was solely based on citizens. This, Hofeller said in the documents, “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” in the state.


Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised the news on Twitter, and her spokesman, Tripp Stelnicki, told NM Political Report “we’ve been pretty consistent on this issue.”

“Anything that might’ve discouraged participation, i.e., a loaded citizenship question, would’ve been very bad news for New Mexico,” Stelnicki said. “The governor’s very glad to see the Census move forward without that contemplated question. Now the front-burner issue is outreach and education.“

The Center for Civic Policy, a progressive, Albuquerque-based non-profit, also said it was tie to look forward.

“We remain particularly committed to ensuring that hard-to-count communities, especially those understandably fearful of this administration’s motives, take part in the next census,” CEO Oriana Sandoval said.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel, said, “This represents an important victory for the Constitution and the nation.  The removal of the question increases the opportunity to ensure that the Census count is as complete as possible, so that our legislative bodies and our distribution of federal funding over the next decade reflects accurately the nation’s total population.”

MALDEF represented plaintiffs in the suit.

Saenz said he was asking the Commerce Department to “go on the record” and file an agreement with the court confirming the question would not be added to the Census.