Supreme Court Says Citizenship Question Cannot Go on 2020 Census, For Now

The Supreme Court has issued a decision on the debate over adding a citizenship status question to the upcoming census.

The Supreme Court said in a decision handed down today in a 5-4 vote that the Commerce Department cannot add the citizenship status question to the upcoming census, at least for now.

The court said that the Trump administration had not provided adequate evidence to support why it was needed, pushing it back to the lower courts for further review. The issue is not resolved, however.

The Supreme Court said in the decision that the court was presented “with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decisionmaking process.”

The ruling will make it next to impossible for the Commerce Department to present evidence to justify adding the question and resolve the debate in time to move forward with executing the 2020 census. Agency officials had said recently that a decision was needed by July 1 to move forward with preparing the census forms.

President Trump said on Twitter Thursday that he would try to delay the census in an effort to get the information to the Supreme Court to make a final decision and settle the issue.

Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, said in a statement that she was pleased with the decision but concerned the question could still make it onto the upcoming census: “…the administration still has time to present new reasoning and to get the question approved by the lower courts. That would be a big mistake and harmful to our economy, and I will keep fighting to preserve the integrity of the 2020 Census.”

On Friday, a group of 28 Senators sent a letter to Commerce Department secretary Wilbur Ross urging him to go ahead with printing the census without the citizenship question to meet the previously set deadline of July 1. “By continuing to pursue the citizenship question, you will further delay and jeopardize the Census Bureau’s ability to conduct a full, fair, and accurate decennial census as required by the U.S. Constitution and the Census Act,” wrote the Senators in their letter.

Update: On Tuesday, July 2, the Trump administration officially abandoned efforts to include a citizenship status question on the upcoming census.

The citizenship status question has been on the census in the past, and the move to add it back on the upcoming census has become very controversial as evidenced by the fact that several states sued the government over the decision and it wound up at the Supreme Court.

Lawmakers on both sides of the issue have introduced bills to either add the question or prevent it from being added, depending of course on which side of the debate they took.

The question was last included in the 1950 census.

Department of Commerce Et Al. v. New York No. 18–966

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.