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Citizenship question on 2020 census? SCOTUS says it's complicated

Citizenship question on 2020 census? SCOTUS says it's complicated
The Supreme Court has effectively blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, arguing that the government’s reasoning for the proposal was inadequately explained.

The nine Justices sent the issue back to the lower court on Thursday, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining liberal colleagues in a 5-4 decision. In a mixed opinion, Roberts said that although the government’s request is constitutional, the administration would nonetheless have to provide a better rationale for introducing the citizenship question on the census.

While the constitution permits the Department of Commerce to “inquire about citizenship on the census questionnaire,” Roberts wrote, “if judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.”

On those grounds, the case was returned to the federal district court, but the ruling leaves little time for the administration to re-argue its case, as the Census Bureau is supposed to have its questionnaires prepared by next week and the Supreme Court has retired for summer recess.

President Donald Trump responded by calling the decision “totally ridiculous” and saying he would try to delay the 2020 census while the matter was sorted out in the courts.

“I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter,” the president tweeted.

Justice Clarence Thomas slammed the majority opinion in his dissent, arguing the court was engaged in hair-splitting on questions of motives, rather than sticking strictly to the law.

“For the first time ever, the Court invalidates an agency action solely because it questions the sincerity of the agency’s otherwise adequate rationale,” Thomas wrote, adding the court’s only role in the case was to decide whether the census question complied with the Constitution.

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The White House insists that including a question about citizenship on census forms would help the government comply with the Voting Rights Act, but critics have argued that it could dissuade immigrants and other non-citizens from participating in the census altogether, skewing population data and making the count less reliable.

Other critics, including plaintiffs in previous federal lawsuits, say the administration intends to “weaponize” the census and use the citizenship question to undercount population numbers in Democratic districts across the country.

In anticipation of the verdict, protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court on Thursday morning.

Once every 10 years, the federal government conducts a systematic count of the US population. The tally largely relies on self-reporting, with households asked to fill out questionnaires and return them to the Census Bureau. While the data is put to many uses, the census primarily determines how many seats each state will have in the US House of Representatives, proportionate to population.

The 1950 census was the last to include a question about citizenship for residents nationwide, but questionnaires in some areas of the US posed related questions up until 2000. Since then, all questions pertaining to citizenship have been moved to the American Community Survey, which is sent to only a small fraction of the population.

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