Trump Administration Pressing Ahead in Efforts to Add Citizenship Question to Census

Justice Department lawyers told a federal judge on Friday that they would press ahead in their efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but indicated they did not know yet what kind of rationale they would put forward.

The assertion capped a chaotic week in which administration officials first promised to abide by a Supreme Court order that effectively blocked the question from next year’s head count, then reversed themselves after President Trump denounced their statements on Twitter as “fake news” and pledged to restore the question.

Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday morning that he was considering issuing an executive order adding the question to the census, one of four or five options that had been presented to him.

Government lawyers have been scrambling since Mr. Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to find a way to restore the citizenship question while obeying the Supreme Court’s order. The justices ruled last week that the administration’s rationale for the question was “contrived,” and said that it could be added to census questionnaires only if officials could offer an acceptable explanation of why it was needed.

That rationale has been the central issue in the battle over the question, which has morphed from a legal confrontation in four federal courts to a fierce partisan struggle with potentially huge implications for national and local politics alike. Census figures determine how the government allots hundreds of billions of federal dollars for programs that impact the entire nation, citizens and noncitizens alike.

Supreme Court Blocks Citizenship Question From 2020 Census for Now

Trump administration’s official explanation for adding the question ‘seems to have been contrived,’ according to the majority opinion

WASHINGTON—A divided Supreme Court on Thursday prevented the Trump administration, for now, from asking U.S. residents on the 2020 census whether they are citizens, a considerable setback for the White House.

The court, in an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, didn’t issue a definitive decision finding the citizenship question unlawful, but it raised concerns about the Trump administration’s stated reason for adding the question to the census.

In strong language, the chief justice, joined by the court’s four liberal justices, said the administration’s official explanation “seems to have been contrived.”

The court sent the case back for more proceedings, leaving the 2020 census in a state of uncertainty—though if the deadline for finalizing the form is July 1, as census officials said this week, the question won’t be on it. However in at least one government filing, a census official gave the final date as Oct. 31.

Three different U.S. district judges have ruled that including the question was unlawful, with each finding that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had not provided the public with his real reasons for doing so.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, which comes at a time of deeply divided immigration politics, could have considerable ramifications for the U.S. population count, as well as the drawing of congressional districts and the allocation of more than $600 billion in federal funds that are based on census data.

The census, mandated by the Constitution, counts all U.S. residents, regardless of citizenship or residency status.

A group of 18 states that sued Mr. Ross, as well as some career Census Bureau staffers, said adding a citizenship question would dampen response rates in immigrant-heavy communities, even in households with legal residents. If that happens, those communities could see a smaller piece of the federal pie, both in political representation and government funding.

The Trump administration said Mr. Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, had the legal authority to include the question and determined that the benefits of having the citizenship data outweighed the potential of a lower response rate. It also pointed to earlier census surveys in the nation’s history that had asked about citizenship.

Mr. Ross’s explanations for adding the question have shifted over time. He and other Trump administration officials have said that census citizenship data would help the Justice Department with its efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights.

Legal challengers in the case have said the administration’s reasons were the opposite—to dilute minority representation—and they said additional evidence has come to light recently that supports their claims. A Maryland federal judge this week said that evidence, which came from the files of a GOP political consultant who died last year, “potentially connects the dots between a discriminatory purpose—diluting Hispanics’ political power—and Secretary Ross’s decision.”

The evidence wasn’t directly before the Supreme Court when it took up the case, though it has received additional legal filings from both sides in recent weeks. New lower court proceedings are pending, though it isn’t clear what impact, if any, those will have after the high court’s ruling.

In April when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the census, President Trump said Americans deserved to know how many citizens were among those residing in their country.

Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing survey answers with federal immigration authorities, but a survey commissioned by the bureau last year found that asking about citizenship could be a substantial barrier to getting people to participate.

The whole country hasn’t been asked about citizenship on the decennial survey since 1950, but the government in recent years has asked a smaller sample of U.S. residents about their status.

The citizenship question touches on the broader immigration agenda that has been a central focus of the Trump presidency. Mr. Trump has barred travel by people from certain Muslim-majority countriesa ban the Supreme Court upheld last year. Mr. Trump’s administration also has attempted to limit immigrant claims for asylum; tried to cancel Obama-era benefits for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children; and sought to build new barriers on the southern border. All of those efforts remain tied up in the courts.

Federal judge compels Secretary of Commerce Ross to be deposed in suit against citizenship question

While Ross has testified about the question before Congress and wanted to avoid a deposition in this lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman wrote in an order Friday “the question is not a close one: Secretary Ross must sit for a deposition because, among other things, his intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases.”

.. government officials should only be called to testify in exceptional circumstances, since they have “greater duties and time constraints than other witnesses.” Thus, the 2nd Circuit ruled, such officials should only be deposed if they have first-hand knowledge or if other sources cannot provide the same information.

Furman said this case meets both of those standards. The heart of the issue is Ross’s own intention in adding the question to the census.

To avoid imposing too much of a burden on Ross, Furman limited the deposition to four hours.

.. evidence found by the attorneys general that suggests Ross took a strong interest in getting the citizenship question added himself, repeatedly raising the topic despite objections from experts within the Census Bureau.

Trump’s worst political nightmare? Democrats with subpoena power

While some Democrats have pressed for Trump’s impeachment, what would be certain is that Democratic committee chairs would swamp Trump and his deputies with subpoenas, document requests and public hearings that would bog down his administration and distract from his agenda ahead of the 2020 elections.

Already, congressional Democrats have amassed dozens of oversight requests targeting the White House, various Cabinet departments and private entities with business ties to Trump and his family.

.. Some outside Trump advisers have mused in recent days that losing the House would be a political disaster but saw a silver lining in the possibility that Democrats would veer left next year and be a foil for Trump

.. “There is a never-ending stream of outrage,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican political consultant who served in the final three years of the Bush White House. “The only difference is, now all of their outrage is directed at Twitter. But when you give somebody a gavel, they can actually hurt you.”

.. Their mission would be to stop the EPA or any other regulatory agency from just functioning, basically, until they can regain power.”

.. it was difficult not to contemplate the possibilities that would come with not only subpoena power, but also a much larger staff and investigative budget.

.. Since Trump took office, Oversight Committee Republicans have blocked more than 50 Democratic subpoena requests ranging from

  • documents pertaining to the administration’s health-care policies to
  • information on the government’s use of chartered airplanes to
  • a demand for testimony from former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

.. would also scrutinize policy issues such as

  • prescription drug prices,
  • postal reform and
  • preparations for the 2020 Census.

.. Unlike the partisan congressional probes into Bush and Obama, which focused mainly on alleged missteps by subordinates, Democrats are primed to put the president himself in the investigative crosshairs 

.. For one, Democrats would be able to inspect Trump’s federal income tax returns for the first time — a trove that they have long demanded but Republicans have shown no interest in obtaining. Under federal law, any tax return can be examined by the chairman of any of the three congressional tax committees.

.. Other information regarding Trump’s personal finances and business dealings could also be subject to Democrats’ prying eyes. They could include rosters of hotel clients and members of Trump golf and social clubs, as well as details of real estate deals that his companies have participated in.

.. requests for information on the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, as well as Trump’s controversial border policies.

Four Democratic senators on Thursday requested a Pentagon investigation into whether the White House improperly offered tours of Air Force One to members of Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.

Select the Worst Trump Minion

Just this week we had a top aide with multiple domestic abuse allegations, plus a chief of staff who never seemed to bother to pursue the matter. And a communications director — third one in a little over a year — who helped write the statement defending said aide, whom she happened to also be dating.

.. Tenure is irrelevant. Kirstjen Nielsen has only been secretary of homeland security for a couple of months, but we already know her as the woman who tried to support her boss by claiming she wasn’t sure whether Norway was a predominately white country.

.. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar .. Azar’s mission is supposed to be bringing down prescription prices, and his main qualification is having run the American division of a drug company during the five years when the price of its insulin rose from $122 to $274 a vial.

.. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos ..  “The bureaucracy is much more formidable and difficult than I had anticipated,” she complained.

.. Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency

.. “Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100? … That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

.. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is busy pushing the federal death penalty and trying to prosecute the marijuana industry in states where grass is legal.

..  U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is trying to dismember the World Trade Organization. Smaller minds are fascinated by reports that Lighthizer has a life-size portrait of himself hanging on the wall at home.

.. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is in charge of the upcoming census, which is underfunded, and rumors are that the chief candidate for deputy director is a highly partisan Texas professor whose book on reapportionment is subtitled “Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.”

..Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin .. The new Trump nominee to lead the I.R.S. is a tax lawyer who specializes in defending wealthy clients against — yes! — the I.R.S. To cheer things up, we can go back to recalling the time Mnuchin posed with his wife, dressed in black opera gloves and a come-hither hairdo, admiring his signature on bills at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is well known for his enthusiasm for fossil fuel drilling. But even some of his fans were a little perplexed when he announced a policy for expanding offshore oil and gas drilling, and then abruptly added that there would be an exception for … Florida. Think it was all about Mar-a-Lago?

.. taxpayers paid $6,000 to helicopter Zinke to a critical appointment going horseback riding with Mike Pence.