Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration’s Citizenship Question on Census

A federal district court judge in New York has blocked the Trump Administration from adding a controversial question regarding citizenship status on the 2020 census. The Administration claims the question is needed in order to protect minority-voting blocs. Critics, however, argue that the question is designed to intimidate and discriminate against immigrant communities.

Background on Decennial Census

As mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the United States government takes a decennial (i.e., every 10 years) census of the population. The census typically includes questions regarding the number of people in the household, and some basic biographical information, such as one’s race and gender.

The census is important not only for the data it provides about the populace, but also because it impacts the political power wielded by each state. More specifically, each state is granted a number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives, and a number of electoral votes for president, proportional to its population.

Proposed Citizenship Question

In March of 2018, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the upcoming 2020 census would include a question not seen on the census since 1950: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Although met with immediate criticism, the Trump Administration defended the move, saying the information would help them to get the most detailed and accurate information and would help ensure that minority voters are properly represented in future voting districts.

Concerns and Accusations of Discrimination

One of the main concerns raised by critics of the question is that it could intimidate certain populations, especially undocumented immigrants, discouraging them from truthfully answering the questions, or possibly from participating in the census at all. In fact, many have alleged that the true purpose of adding the citizenship question is to intimidate undocumented immigrants from participating, which could skew the survey and under-represent certain populations within each state.

The Court’s Ruling

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman from the Southern District of New York has ordered the Trump Administration to scrap plans to include the question, at least for the time being. The judge stopped short of agreeing with Plaintiffs that the question was intended to discriminate against Latinos, Asian Americans, Arab Americans, and immigrant communities of color in general, instead focusing on the lack of supporting rationale for the inclusion of the question in the 2020 census. While the decision does halt the question’s inclusion, it leaves open the possibility that the question will appear on the final census if the Administration can demonstrate it met all the legal requirements in considering the question.

Legal Battle Continues

The Administration is appealing the district judge’s decision. Meanwhile, there are cases pending in California and Maryland over the same issue. It seems likely that the matter eventually will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will have final say on the issue.


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