In a major ruling out Thursday, Supreme Court justices issued a complicated decision regarding the Trump administration’s plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The high court agreed with a lower court to send the issue back to the Commerce Department, citing problems with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ rationale for adding the question.
The delay marks at least a partial victory for critics of adding the question, who argued that it would deter people – particularly immigrants – from responding to the census, which could drastically skew the count. Census numbers are used to determine everything from how congressional districts are divvied up to where the government spends cash for programs like Head Start and Medicare.
“It is hardly improper for an agency head to come into office with policy preferences and ideas, discuss them with affected parties, sound out other agencies for support, and work with staff attorneys to substantiate the legal basis for a preferred policy,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.
But, he added, “Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the Secretary’s explanation for his decision. … The explanation provided here was more of a distraction.”
Ross has said that the plan to revive a citizenship question on the 2020 census was an attempt to bolster the Voting Rights Act. But the Supreme Court majority wrote, “Several points, taken together, reveal a significant mismatch between the Secretary’s decision and the rationale he provided. The record shows that he began taking steps to reinstate the question a week into his tenure, but gives no hint that he was considering VRA enforcement.”
Immigrants rights groups and activists are hopeful that the Supreme Court ruling effectively kills the citizenship question on the Census form this time around.
“We are sending a very clear message – everybody’s going to be counted in 2020,” Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, a Mid-Atlantic immigrant rights group, said in a video posted on the organization’s Twitter feed Thursday.
Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) said on social media that she plans on celebrating the decision.
“Today is my birthday. I usually don’t celebrate,” she said. “However, I will today!!!!!”