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Citizenship question dropped from the 2020 census

Administration’s retreat follows Supreme Court decision that blocked question on procedural grounds

Protesters hold signs at a rally in front of the Supreme Court on June 27 after its ruling on the census question. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Protesters hold signs at a rally in front of the Supreme Court on June 27 after its ruling on the census question. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The 2020 census will not include a citizenship question, the Justice Department said Tuesday, just days after the Supreme Court blocked a plan by the Commerce Department to add it to the census questionnaire.

Federal attorneys on Tuesday told litigants in the New York challenge to the case that it would not pursue the question. Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco confirmed that the government will move ahead with printing census forms without it.

 [House Democrats to continue census probe]

The retreat follows the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision last week, which it based on objections to the Commerce Department’s reasoning for adding the question. President Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to delay the census to get the question approved.

He called the ruling “very unfortunate” at a press conference in Japan, saying it “wasn’t a real decision.”

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement that the Census Bureau would be focused on conducting a “complete and accurate census” — without the citizenship question.

“I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling regarding my decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 Census,” Ross said.

Government attorneys told New York Attorney General Letitia James, the ACLU and other challengers to the question Tuesday that the administration would not attempt to continue the fight to add the question.

[Power of New York, Texas hinges on immigrant count]

“We’re glad the #2020Census will begin printing without a citizenship question. Enjoy your 4th of July,” James tweeted. 

Government attorneys repeatedly maintained in court, including arguments to the Supreme Court, that it had to finalize the census questionnaires by June 30. The government’s printing contractor, RR Donnelley, has laid out a printing process for more than 1 billion documents. 

During litigation over the question, a Census Bureau official said the bureau could proceed as late as Oct. 31 if it had additional resources.

Any delay to the process would endanger the ability to get the census ready on time, according to former Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, who oversaw the 2010 census. That year’s census printing process used up the entirety of the commercial printing capacity in the United States, he said, a process that had to be scheduled and run on a clear timeline.

“It’s not clear that you can change the time of the print job even if you wanted to. It is not like going to your local print shop,” Groves said.

House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings said Tuesday he wants the administration to comply with subpoenas for documents underlying their decision to add the question. Last month the committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Ross in contempt over the withholding of documents.

“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,” Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement.

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