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Moving Forward After SCOTUS Ruling in Census Case

July 1, 2019
On June 27, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected President Trump’s Administration’s decision to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census, citing a pretextual violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.
 
The court’s decision in Commerce v. New York, to remand the decision to add an untested citizenship question to the 2020 Census questioned back to the agency, held that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross came into office determined to add a citizenship question, later justifying the decision as enforcing the Voter Rights Act (VRA). This decision sends this case back to a federal court in New York for further consideration, presumably giving the Trump Administration time to offer different justification for the need to add the citizenship question.
 
The ruling reaffirms that block-level citizenship data is unnecessary to enforce the VRA. There are fears that such a question would reduce the likelihood of minority and low-income populations participating in the 2020 Census. The Public Policy Institute of California released a report in March stating that California faced a great risk of an undercount, given the state’s diverse hard-to-count population. Adding a question about the status of citizenship may make immigrants and others more reluctant to share information with the government, likely causing the state to lose a congressional seat and miss out on significant future federal funding. California received an estimated $115 billion in federal funding tied to the state’s population count in fiscal year 2016 alone.
 
Shortly after the ruling, California Gov. Gavin Newsom released a statement emphasizing the “unprecedented investment of $187 million in outreach efforts to ensure an accurate and fair count” in the state.
 
The National League of Cities also released the following statement: “Today’s ruling reaffirmed that block level citizenship data is unnecessary for Voting Rights Act enforcement and threw the fate of this question in doubt. The full truth is that citizenship question is untested, untimely and unnecessary across the board. While we celebrate today’s tentative victory, local leaders know there is still more work to be done to ensure our communities are fully counted next year,” said Irma Esparza Diggs, director of Federal Advocacy. 
 
What’s Next?
 
As the Trump Administration considers alternative justification for a citizenship question and further arguments being heard in federal court, the fate of the citizenship question remains uncertain, and distribution and printing of the Census forms may be delayed.
 
For more information and resources on what California cities can do to ensure a complete Census count in their communities, visit the League’s resource page, explore National League of Cities’ toolkit or connect with the California Complete Count - Census 2020 website.


 
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