President Donald Trump says he's ordered his attorneys to seek a delay in issuing the 2020 census after the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration may not be able to include a question about citizenship status.
The President announced his decision to delay the census on Twitter, taking aim at the Supreme Court for its "ridiculous" decision blocking the administration from inquiring — even anonymously — into the citizenship status of census takers.
"Seems totally ridiculous that our government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census, in this case for 2020," Trump tweeted. "I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter. Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!"
Seems totally ridiculous that our government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census, in this case for 2020. I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2019
.....United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter. Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2019
The Supreme Court has yet to make any final determination on the issue, but directed the case back to a lower court on Thursday, saying that the administration's stated reason for inquiring about the citizenship status of census takers didn't match with evidence presented on how the question came to be added.
A 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court, Fox News reports, determined that the court was presented "with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision-making process."
The Court's concern is less the question — which they say the Executive Branch has "broad authority" to add — but whether the census writers in the Commerce Department were asked to include the question, or whether they solicited a request for the citizenship inquiry from the Justice Department. The Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, has to follow very specific rules when it comes to rewriting the census, and he may have violated those rules.
But, the Court says, that's for a lower court to consider, not the Supreme Court, which isn't a trial court.
From a secondary perspective, the Court also worried that including the question could lead to a major disruption in the census's data collection. Even given that the census is technically anonymous and questions can be avoided, just knowing that the census is taking stock of whether people living in the United States are, in fact, citizens, could prevent many people from filling out the questionnaire altogether, leading to a massive undercount.
It's a tough outcome for the Trump administration because while it doesn't necessarily preclude the census from asking about citizenship, the Constitution requires that the census be done next year, in 2020, which means the census forms have to be designed and printed before the end of summer 2019.
If the Trump administration decides to relitigate the issue, it will likely take far more than a few months for the question to make its way through the lower courts — and if they decide to appeal, the Supreme Court won't be in session again until September, and may not issue a ruling on the question until well into 2020.
There aren't a lot of things the government is required by the Constitution to do, but a census is one of them, and missing the census would be a severe abrogation of a central duty of the Executive Branch.
It seems, though, that the Trump administration is going to try. Based on Trump's announcement this afternoon, it looks as though lawyers for the Department of Justice will continue to pursue the question of whether the citizenship question is an appropriate addition, as well as whether the Trump administration can rightfully delay the census until the legal matter is settled.