Supreme Court Rules that Citizenship Question Cannot Yet Be Added to 2020 Census
Supreme Court Rules that Citizenship Question Cannot Yet Be Added to 2020 Census

June 2019

On June 27, the Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision, ruled that the district court in New York took appropriate action in blocking the citizenship question from the 2020 Census, based on the rationale for adding the question presented by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

In his majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: 

“Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match what the [Commerce] Secretary gave for his decision. In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ [Department of Justice]. And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the [Voting Rights Act] enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived.”

The citizenship question was not field tested to see the potential impact on response before being included in the questionnaire by request of the DOJ; there are concerns that placing a citizenship question on the decennial census will result in an undercount of immigrants and children.

In a letter submitted to the Commerce Department in 2018, AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine stated that adding the question “will not only compromise the accuracy of the count, but also increase costs for administering the decennial census.”  

The ruling leaves open the possibility that the Commerce Department could delay its July 1 deadline for printing 2020 Census questionnaires and submit a new rationale for the citizenship question to the New York district court.

Congress and the Census Bureau have taken actions in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling.

The House appropriations package that includes 2020 fiscal year funding for the Census Bureau includes a clause that would prevent funding from being used “to include any question on the 2020 Census that was not included in the 2018 End-to-End Census Test in Providence County, Rhode Island,” which would apply to the citizenship question.

The Census Bureau is currently testing two forms for the 2020 decennial census—one that includes the citizenship question and one that does not.


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