Trump’s attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper. Trump may claim victory today, but this is nothing short of a total, humiliating defeat for him and his administration. Dale Ho, an ACLU lawyer who represented some of the plaintiffs in a federal challenge to a citizenship question.
President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he is dropping his administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, an abrupt reversal that came after Trump repeatedly insisted he would push ahead with trying to add the question.
Rather than add the question to the 2020 census, which will go to every household in America, Trump instructed other executive agencies to immediately provide all of their citizenship records to the Department of Commerce, which oversees the census. Census Bureau officials authored a memo last year arguing they could better collect citizenship data using existing government administrative records.
Although the Trump administration has said since 2017 it needed the citizenship question for better enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, critics have long said that rationale is fake. At his Thursday announcement, Trump seemed to confirm that. He did not mention the Voting Rights Act and instead focused on how the data could be used to draw districts based only on the citizen voting-age population.
“Some states may want to draw state and local legislative districts based upon the voter eligible population. Indeed the same day the Supreme Court handed down the census decision, it also said it would not review certain types of districting decisions, which could encourage states to make such decisions based on voter eligibility,” he said.
“With today’s order, we will conduct all of the information we need in order to conduct an accurate census and to make responsible decisions about public policy, voting rights, and representation in Congress,” he added.
Congressional seats allocated to states and districts are drawn based on the total population, and switching to using only the citizen voting-age population would benefit non-Hispanic whites. States could still use citizenship data the Trump administration obtains through other means to draw districts this way.
Speaking after Trump, Attorney General William Barr congratulated the president and said the Supreme Court’s ruling had made it logistically impossible to get a citizenship question on the census.
Even though the 14th Amendment says congressional seats get apportioned based on the number of “persons in each state,” Barr said it was an open legal question as to whether people in the country illegally should be counted for apportionment purposes. Many legal experts are skeptical the 14th Amendment excludes immigrants from the count.
The president’s decision is the latest in a stunning series of twists that have come since the U.S. Supreme Court essentially blocked his administration from adding the question late last month. Justice Department lawyers said they faced a hard deadline of July 1 to print the census questionnaires, and lawyers confirmed on July 2 that the forms were being printed without a citizenship question.