Trump Weighs Executive Order to Add Citizenship Question to Census

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he may issue an executive order to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census as the administration considers alternatives after the Supreme Court put the matter on hold.

“We’re thinking about doing that,” Trump told reporters on Friday, referring to executive action, as he left for a weekend break at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “There are four or five ways we can do it. It’s one of the ways we are thinking about doing it.”

But by midday Friday, the Justice Department hadn’t decided how -- or even whether -- to move ahead, according to a filing submitted to meet a deadline set by a Maryland judge. The five-page document said the court would be notified “in the event” the U.S. adopts a new rationale for adding the question, while suggesting the government is still searching for a path forward.

Trump said Thursday that government officials are working through the July 4 holiday in search of a way to insert the citizenship question on the census despite a June 27 Supreme Court ruling that put the administration’s initial plan on hold. The forms for the once-a-decade headcount must be prepared soon to meet the deadline for 2020.

“We can start the printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision,” Trump said, noting that he spoke earlier Friday to Attorney General William Barr. “We have a number of different avenues. We could use all of them, or one.”

Census-takers started asking about citizenship in 1820 but haven’t posed the question to every household since 1950.

The administration initially appeared to accept the Supreme Court decision and began printing census forms that did not include the question. But Trump subsequently ordered the government to re-examine the issue in a tweet, prompting the Justice Department to examine alternative ways to proceed.

In New York, the federal judge overseeing the case that went to the Supreme Court told lawyers he sees no need for a new hearing because rulings blocking the question remain in place -- as, he said, the government has recognized.

“Given the government’s acknowledgment that this court’s injunction remains in place, its concession that it cannot take steps to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire without ‘adopt[ing] a new rationale," its representation that it ‘will immediately notify this Court’ if it does so, and today’s deadline imposed by Judge Hazel, the Court sees no need for a conference at this time,” U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said in a brief order.

‘Contrived’ Rationale

Critics have argued that the citizenship question is an attempt to reduce immigrants’ participation in the survey. They say the administration is seeking to dilute the voting power of states -- whose congressional representation and Electoral College votes are determined by the every-10-year constitutionally mandated survey -- with more minority voters.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had said the goal of the question was to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters. But in the final opinion of its term, a divided court said last week Ross’s stated rationale was “contrived” and couldn’t be squared with the evidence about his true motivations. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberals in the majority.

In comments to reporters at the White House on Friday, Trump said he respects Roberts but the chief justice “didn’t like” the administration’s arguments and “essentially, he said, ‘Come back.”

In its filing in Maryland, the Justice Department said it will file a motion in the Supreme Court seeking instructions on how to proceed if the U.S. finds “a viable path forward."

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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