Big win on census citizenship question

The Trump administration has decided to print the 2020 census forms without including the question that asked people to state their citizenship status. The Trump administration and Republicans had wanted this question despite fears being raised that this would result in non-citizens being afraid to take part in the census and not filling the forms, thus affecting the many ways in which resources are allocated to states and localities, including the number of congressional seats in each state, that depend only on the number of people that are there, not on the number of citizens. Of course, this likely was exactly what the Trump administration wanted to achieve, though they created some kind of cockamamie rationale for its inclusion.

The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court that ruled on it last week. In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that the reasons given by the government for inclusion of the question were contrived and without merit. The court did not say that the question was unconstitutional but that if the government wanted to include it, they had to come up with a better reason and present it again to the court.

The ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts questioned the rationale for the administration’s effort, just as challenging states and immigrant rights groups have done.

“The evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation (Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross) gave for his decision,” Roberts wrote. “The sole stated reason seems to have been contrived.”

In a complex decision with several dissents and concurrences, the court’s four liberal justices said they would have struck down the citizenship question outright, while the court’s four other conservative justices said it should have been upheld.

Opponents contended that adding the question was an effort to scare noncitizens into avoiding the census. That in turn would require expanding largely Democratic congressional districts, potentially reducing their overall number. It could cost California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Arizona seats in Congress.

The catch was that the census forms faced a publication deadline of this week in order to get the census done in time. Trump went so far as to suggest delaying the census to do that, which would have raised other constitutional issues. But today, we learn that the government backed down and started printing the forms without the citizenship question, making the whole issue moot, at least until the 2030 census comes around

You can expect the right-wing outrage machine to go into overdrive. They will likely target chief justice John Roberts for their ire since he joined with the four liberal justices in issuing the ruling that effectively killed the question.

The ACLU put out a video on why the citizenship question was bad.


  1. flex says

    The problem is that it’s probably too late. Even with the question removed from the forms, the controversy itself is likely to have reached the people who would have been afraid to answer the census, and so those forms may well not be returned anyway.

    People who live in fear tend to be very skittish about revealing themselves. The census regularly undercounts marginalized people. Not because they don’t try to to count them, but because those people don’t want to be reached, even if it would improve their lives. The controversy over adding the question is enough to have them decide to not fill out the form.

    Which, I guess from the viewpoint of the evil people who think brown people are things, means “mission accomplished!”.

  2. says

    This is a side-show. The SC just made gerrymandering a state’s rights issue. Which means the country is headed back to southern elections being rigged.

  3. Dunc says

    Which means the country is headed back to southern elections being rigged.

    You mean they aren’t already?

  4. johnson catman says

    Marcus @2: In the 2018 election for the NC representatives for the US House, the vote count for democrats and republicans was nearly split evenly. Yet, because of the gerrymandered districts, democrats only got three of the thirteen seats. Yeah, we are WAY past “headed back to southern elections being rigged.”

  5. says

    There’s a lot of room at the bottom.
    Post reconstruction a black person who showed up at a polling place might be greeted by armed whites telling them to leave. Recently they have only been trying to drive away enough voters to tilt the vote. I think we are headed back to the days when a non-white had no chance of voting at all. I.e. a return to apartheid.

  6. jrkrideau says

    Well, at least I see why the question was so inflamatory. Given the current US regime I can see the worry about such a question.
    I cannot even remember if the 2016 Canadian census had a similar question. I suspect not.

    All I can remember is that people were almost having parties to celebrate the census. Our Luddite Con Gov’t had cancelled the 2011 census to the horror of everyone from geographers to McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s.

  7. jrkrideau says

    @ 3 Dunc
    Have I not read postings by Mano and PZ suggesting that there is a lot of blatant gerrymandering going on in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania as well or is it just more racist it the southern states?

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