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Supreme Court Blocks Census Citizenship Question, for Now

June 28, 2019
 
 

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the addition of a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census on the grounds that the explanation offered by the Department of Commerce for the action "seems to have been contrived." Many social science groups opposed the addition of the question, which they argued would discourage immigrants from responding and lead to an undercount of the U.S. population.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion. He was joined by the court's four liberal members in regards to the key finding that the agency's explanation for adding the question -- improved citizenship data for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act -- was "incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency's priorities and decision-making process."

"The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law, after all, is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public," Justice Roberts wrote in remanding the case back to a lower court. "Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise."

The New York Times noted that the practical impact of the decision was not immediately clear, as the Supreme Court left open the possibility that the Trump administration could offer other explanations for the question. But the 2020 Census forms must be printed soon.

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