UPDATED 1:00 PM PT — Monday, April 1, 2019
The legal battle over adding a citizenship question the 2020 Census continues, with the nation’s highest court taking up the case. The decision comes after the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to decide whether the question could be included in the decennial survey.
The Trump administration is looking to appeal a ruling by the Southern District of New York, which previously struck down their request. That decision then headed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. However, this latest move means justices will resolve the case before the lower court has the chance to review it.
The Department of Justice said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who announced he would pursue the move last year, has the legal authority to include it.
“The 2020 decennial census is the department’s top priority,” said Ross. “We are responding solely to the Department of Justice’s request, not to any campaign request or any political party request.”
However, the district judge cast doubt on the reasoning behind Ross’ decision to include the question in the survey. The judge argued its inclusion would be unlawful and would violate the Administrative Procedure Act, but Ross cited the need to enforce the Voting Rights Act by asking census-takers if they are citizens of the United States.
The agency argued the question was included in previous years, with it last being seen in 1950.
Last year, acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Gore maintained the Department of Justice relies on the survey to conduct elections in compliance with federal laws.
“The department’s letter explained that accurate citizenship data is crucial to the department’s enforcement of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, and it’s important protections against racial discrimination and voting,” Gore explained. “To fully enforce those requirements the department needs reliable citizen voting ago population data in localities and census blocks, where voting rights violations are alleged or suspected.”
The questions being presented in the case look to determine whether the district court misrepresented precedent in its ruling. The nation’s highest court must reach a decision by June before census forms begin printing.