President Donald Trump is arguing he didn’t retreat when he abandoned his effort to insert a citizenship question into next year’s census and insists his fallback will prove a more accurate option.
“Not only didn’t I back down, but I also backed up because anybody else would have given this up a long time ago,” Trump told reporters Friday, one day after directing federal agencies to try to compile the citizenship information using existing databases. Still, the decision was clearly a reversal.
The Supreme Court had blocked his effort by disputing his administration’s rationale for demanding that census respondents declare whether or not they were citizens. Trump had said last week that he was “very seriously” considering an executive order to try to force the question. But the government has begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it, and such a move would surely have drawn an immediate legal challenge.
Late Thursday, Justice Department lawyers sent a copy of the executive order to the judge presiding over a challenge to the citizenship question in Manhattan federal court, saying they will confer with lawyers for the plaintiffs to see how to proceed in the case. Trump’s order said the Supreme Court “has now made it impossible, as a practical matter, to include a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire.”
“After examining every possible alternative, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Commerce have informed me that the logistics and timing for carrying out the census, combined with delays from continuing litigation, leave no practical mechanism for including the question on the 2020 decennial census,” Trump said.
Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, and the lawyer who argued the Supreme Court case celebrated Thursday’s announcement by the president, saying: “Trump’s attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper.”
Trump said his order would apply to every agency, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. The Census Bureau already has access to Social Security, food stamp and federal prison records, all of which contain citizenship information.