Trump expected to announce executive action on adding citizenship question to census

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liveslow/iStockTrump expected to announce executive action on adding citizenship question to census

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would have an announcement later in the day related to “the Census and Citizenship” and a senior administration official told ABC News the president was expected to say he’s taking an executive action to try to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The announcement comes as the president has been weighing options for how to add the controversial citizenship question, even after the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s stated rationale for doing so as “contrived.”

It was expected Trump would instruct Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to add the question, escalating the administration’s effort to work around the Supreme Court decision.

While the Justice Department had initially accepted the Supreme Court’s ruling and signaled the administration would no longer pursue the citizenship question for the 2020 census, the administration abruptly changed course after the president said that the administration was “absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”

The move comes as the government has acknowledged in court that census forms continue to be printed without the question, in compliance with the Supreme Court’s order last month.

In a majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the administration’s previous stated reasoning that it wanted the question added to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, “seems to have been contrived.” However, Roberts also left open the possibility that the question could still be added if the administration presented a rationale that was sufficient.

Following that decision, the Justice and Commerce Departments announced last week that printing of the 2020 census would begin without any renewed effort to add the citizenship question.

But they reversed course after President Trump tweeted that his administration was “absolutely moving forward” with efforts to include the question, sending DOJ lawyers scrambling to work up a new strategy that they could argue in ongoing district court cases in New York, Maryland and California.

The Justice Department then made a surprise announcement Sunday evening that it planned to completely replace its legal teams arguing those cases, raising speculation that some of the attorneys involved felt uncomfortable with the administration’s path forward.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Attorney General Bill Barr disputed that the swap was a result of any internal objections expressed by the previous legal team.

But in two cases the attempted switch has hit a major roadblock.

Federal judges in both New York and Maryland have denied the government’s attempt to withdraw the previous attorneys, both saying the government has not provided enough information on how a transition between the teams wouldn’t serve to disrupt ongoing legal proceedings.

Some legal experts have said the president doesn’t have the constitutional power to unilaterally add a citizenship question, pointing to Article 1, Section II of the Constitution, which grants Congress the authority to conduct and oversee the census. Title 13 of the U.S. Code delegated that authority to the Commerce Department but outlines specific procedures they have to follow under law, like the date that the census must be delivered.

Immigration and civil rights groups opposing the administration’s efforts have argued that including a citizenship question on the census could reduce response rates in immigrant communities, resulting in federal funding cuts to areas with high minority populations and congressional districts being drawn in a fashion that would politically advantage Republicans.

A Census Bureau report released just last month estimated that adding the question was likely to reduce responses in households with at least one non-citizen by at least 8 percent.

It’s not immediately clear when, or even if, any new administration rationale might end up back before the Supreme Court. Since the court’s June 27 decision, the administration has had a 25-day span to make a formal request for a rehearing. Officials from both the Justice and Commerce departments had previously argued repeatedly in court that the legal issues surrounding the census had to be resolved by the end of June to begin the printing process so forms could be ready for mailing by March.

Census forms without the citizenship question will continue being printed throughout the legal process, the administration has said, adding if the question is eventually approved, it could be sent out as an addendum.

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