On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to weigh in on the constitutionality of the Trump administration asking a new citizenship question in the upcoming national census, the New York Times reports. Opponents of adding the question have said that asking about citizenship will discourage immigrants, both documented and undocumented, from participating in the survey, which could allegedly depress response rates by as much as 6.5 million individuals.
With census forms scheduled to be printed as early as this June, the case proceeded much more quickly than most that make their way in front of the highest court in the land. The question will bypass the typical appeals process and planning arguments for April, addressing the question in time for the substantial logistics necessary to coordinate the countrywide census.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ordered the question to be added to the next census following a 2017 request from the Justice Department, which was then run by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. At the time, Ross claimed that citizenship data would help the department ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a claim that was found to be dubious by Judge Jesse Furman. Furman ruled against the addition of the question to the census earlier this year, in the United States District Court of Manhattan.
“While the court is unable to determine — based on the existing record, at least — what Secretary Ross’s real reasons for adding the citizenship question were, it does find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that promoting enforcement of [the Voting Rights Act] was not his real reason for the decision,” Furman wrote. “Instead, the court finds that the V.R.A. was a post hoc rationale for a decision that the secretary had already made for other reasons.”
The Supreme Court blocked an order from the lower court, requesting that Ross testify under oath as to his intentions. Furman went on to write that the characterization of Ross’ motivation as having anything to do with the Voting Rights Act was not only inconsistent with evidence before the court, but in complete contradiction to it.
Arguments in favor of the addition of the question indicate that Ross is within his discretion as a new department head to make policy changes, even sweeping ones, and that citizenship questions on census questionnaires are largely common in other developed democratic questions.
In addition to potentially influencing the accuracy and validity of the census as a whole, also at play is the distribution of hundreds of billions in government spending, which is allocated based on census data. A reduction in immigrants responding to the survey could also lead to a political loss for Democrats, who can expect to see their representation in traditionally Democratic districts reduced.