It’s being described as a loss, but the Trump administration actually won a partial victory Thursday in the lawsuits filed to prevent the reinstatement of a citizenship question on the U.S. Census.
We need accurate information on our population — including the number of non-citizens — for many different reasons. That includes the distribution of federal funds, the drawing of political boundary lines for state legislative and congressional seats, and the formation of our nation’s immigration policy.
There have been 23 decennial censuses since 1790. All but one between 1820 and 2000 asked at least some portion of the population about their citizenship or place of birth. In 2010, the citizenship question was moved to the American Community Survey, which is sent out annually to many American households.
The Court said the Constitution’s Enumeration Clause, which directs the conduct of a census every 10 years, permits Congress to inquire about citizenship. Furthermore, the Commerce Secretary has the authority to make that inquiry because Congress gave him that authority. However, his decision is subject to judicial review under another federal law that governs such regulatory determinations, the Administrative Procedure Act.
The Court concluded that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision that adding the citizenship question would provide more accurate citizenship data, when weighed against the uncertain risk that it could lower the response rate, was reasonable and supported by the evidence before him. It wasn’t arbitrary or capricious.
However, the Court concluded that the Justice Department’s claim that this information is needed for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act seems to have been “contrived,” so it remanded the case to the lower court to further investigate the issue.
As a former Justice Department lawyer, I can assure you that accurate citizenship data is required for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department should quickly provide that evidence to the federal court so this issue can finally be resolved and the citizenship question added to the 2020 Census.
This piece originally appeared in USA Today