Law & the Courts

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Citizenship Census Question

The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2018. (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to rule on whether the Trump administration can include a question about citizenship on the 2020 national census.

In deciding to hear the case, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of intervening before any appeals court had ruled on the matter. Arguments are scheduled for April, so the case should be resolved before the next census is distributed in June.

Citing a December 2017 request from the Department of Justice, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross ordered the citizenship question to be included in the upcoming census for the first time in nearly 70 years on the grounds that it would help with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. A federal judge in Manhattan ruled against the administration last month and questioned Ross’s intent in introducing the question.

“While the court is unable to determine — based on the existing record, at least — what Secretary Ross’s real reasons for adding the citizenship question were, it does find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that promoting enforcement of the [Voting Rights Act] was his real reason for the decision,” Judge Jesse Furman of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan wrote. “Instead, the court finds that the V.R.A. was a post hoc rationale for a decision that the secretary had already made for other reasons.”

Critics of the citizenship question argue that it will negatively impact the accuracy of the census as many illegal immigrants will be fearful the information will be used against them. The administration, however, has maintained that the question will help protect against voter fraud.

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