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Trump Administration To Print 2020 Census Without Citizenship Question

People gather in front of the Supreme Court last week, some opposing the controversial citizenship question that the Trump administration tried to add to the 2020 census.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
People gather in front of the Supreme Court last week, some opposing the controversial citizenship question that the Trump administration tried to add to the 2020 census.

Updated at 10:45 p.m. ET

The Trump administration has decided to print the 2020 census forms without a citizenship question, and the printer has been told to start the printing process, Justice Department spokesperson Kelly Laco confirms to NPR.

The move comes shortly after the Supreme Court ruled to keep the question off census forms for now and just a day after printing was scheduled to begin for 1.5 billion paper forms, letters and other mailings.

In recent days, President Trump had said he wanted to delay the constitutionally mandated head count to give the Supreme Court a chance to issue a more "decisive" ruling on whether the administration could add the question, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" A majority of the justices found that the administration's use of the Voting Rights Act to justify the question "seems to have been contrived."

Trump saidin a tweet Tuesday night, "A very sad time for America when the Supreme Court of the United States won't allow a question of 'Is this person a Citizen of the United States?' " He addedthat he has asked the Departments of Justice and Commerce "to do whatever is necessary to bring this most vital of questions, and this very important case, to a successful conclusion. USA! USA! USA!"

Asked whether the administration's decision to not add the question is final, Laco said in a text: "Confirm no citizenship question on 2020 census."

A federal judge has ordered Justice Department attorneys and Maryland-based plaintiffs in the citizenship question lawsuits to reach a written agreement by July 8 that formally confirms those plans, according to plaintiffs' attorney Thomas Saenz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Still, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau and approved adding the question, said in a statement that the bureau has started the process of printing census forms without the question. He added that while he respects the Supreme Court, he "strongly" disagrees with its ruling on the question.

"My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census," Ross said.

More than two dozen states, cities and other groups challenged in court Ross' decision to add the question. Critics worry that including the question would suppress participation in the census, especially among households with noncitizens and among communities of color. The bureau's own research in 2018found the question to be a "major barrier" to participation in the head count of every person living in the United States.

Letters with instructions for completing test census forms that include the citizenship question have already been sent to about a quarter-million U.S. households. The bureau has said it plans to continue conducting the experiment through mid-August to gauge public reaction.

The Trump administration's announcement on Tuesday did not address what it plans to do with existing government records on citizenship that Ross instructed the Census Bureau last year to start compiling in addition to adding a citizenship question. The bureau has entered into special agreements to obtain those records from the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.

Researchers at the bureau have recommended using those records as a more accurate and less expensive source of citizenship information about every U.S. household than self-reported responses to a question on census forms. In May, the bureau's chief scientist, John Abowd, said that while the bureau has been waiting for "guidance" from Ross, it has been preparing to put out citizenship information based on the records.

If that information is released after the 2020 census is conducted, state and local redistricting officials could use the data to draw new voting districts based on only the number of U.S. citizens old enough to vote, rather than the number of all residents. According to documentsthat plaintiffs allege show the real reason for the Trump administration's push for a citizenship question, the now-deceased Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller concluded that using this type of citizenship data for redistricting would ultimately be "advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites."

While the legal fight over the question may be winding down, a federal judge in New York is continuing to prepare to review allegations of a Trump administration cover-up involving the citizenship question.

In Congress, lawmakers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are keeping the heat on the administration as part of an investigation into why the administration wanted the question.

"The Trump Administration put our country through more than a year of wasted time and squandered resources—all in the service of an illegal attempt to add a discriminatory question based on a pretext," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who chairs the committee, in a statement released Tuesday. "Now they need to direct all their attention to the nuts and bolts of putting on the Census next year."

Cummings' statement then turned back to his committee's investigation, noting that Ross and Attorney General William Barr "must now turn over" complete versions of all the internal documents about the question that lawmakers have requested.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
Amita Kelly is a Washington editor, where she works across beats and platforms to edit election, politics and policy news and features stories.
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