White House

DOJ, Trump push ahead in fight for census citizenship question

President has not given up on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census despite court setbacks

President Donald Trump, here at his “A Salute to America” celebration on Thursday, has not given up on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census despite court setbacks. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has not given up on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census despite court setbacks, administration lawyers said Friday, but the move faces numerous challenges amid ongoing preparations.

Following last week’s Supreme Court decision blocking the original rationale for the question, the administration started printing forms earlier this week without it. However, Justice Department lawyers filed papers with Maryland federal district Judge George Hazel on Friday, telling him the administration would continue to try to add the question — without detailing how.

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Administration attorneys said they “have been asked to reevaluate all available options following the Supreme Court’s decision and whether the Supreme Court’s decision would allow for a new decision to include the citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census.”

The latest legal maneuver faces a tight timeline and numerous hurdles in the courts: Hazel and two other judges have active injunctions against the census including the question based on administrative law violations. Hazel has indicated he may now reconsider claims the question was meant to be discriminatory since the administration has not dropped it.

The judge approved a schedule for discovery on those claims Friday, despite the DOJ's argument that doing so would be “premature” while it is still trying to discover a route forward.

In the meantime, the DOJ said it will continue to print census forms without the citizenship question.

On Friday, Trump told reporters he discussed the matter with the Justice Department and gave several rationales for adding the question, none of which involved the administration’s original reason for adding the question: enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

“Well you need it for many reasons. No. 1, you need it for Congress, you need it for Congress, for districting. You need it for appropriations, where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens, are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons,” Trump said.

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Originally, DOJ lawyers told challengers and judges in two of the cases that the census forms would be printed without the question following last week’s Supreme Court decision. Justices wrote that the administration’s decision was a pretext and could not stand.

Then on Wednesday, Trump tweeted that reports of dropping the question were “incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!”

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

Trump said Friday that he is examining use of an executive order to add the question to the census, something not covered by the statute laying out the census process.

“It’s one of the ways — we have four or five ways we can do it,”he told reporters. “It’s one of the ways that we’re thinking about doing it very seriously.”

It’s not clear how the question could be added to the census at this point, as printing more than 1 billion census documents has already begun, according to the Commerce Department. In order to obtain expedited consideration before the Supreme Court, the administration had said it had a June 30 deadline to resolve the issue.

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