citizenship question

Predicting the outcome of a Supreme Court case based on oral argument is foolhardy. But unless the more liberal Justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) are able to pick up the vote of a more conservative Justice (Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh) it seems likely the 2020 census will contain a question about citizenship.

In March 2018 Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a memorandum stating he would add the question. He claimed the Department of Justice (DOJ) wanted the data to enforce the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition against diluting the voting power of minority groups.

A federal district court has held that a question about citizenship may not be included in the 2020 census. The Trump administration is likely to appeal this ruling to the Second Circuit, and it is likely the Supreme Court will ultimately resolve the dispute. Additional challenges to including this question have been brought but not yet decided.  

Judge Furman summarizes the significance of having an accurate census for state and local governments in his 277-page opinion:  “[The census] is used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal, state, and local funds. Even small deviations from an accurate count can have major implications for states, localities, and the people who live in them — indeed, for the country as a whole.”

In March 2018 Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a memorandum stating a citizenship question would be added to the 2020 census questionnaire. In In Re Department of Commerce the Supreme Court will not be deciding whether this question may be legally added. Instead, the Court will decide—among other things—whether Secretary Ross may be deposed as to his motives for adding this question.

A number of state and local governments and nonprofits sued the Secretary claiming that adding this question is arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

In the 2018 memorandum Secretary Ross stated that he “began a thorough assessment” of whether to add a citizenship question “[f]ollowing receipt” of a December 2017 letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition against diluting the voting power of minority groups.