Washington: US President Donald Trump has indicated that he might seek an executive order to place a citizenship question on the census, one of several options his administration wass considering in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that stymied its push to do so.
Meanwhile, a federal judge rejected the administration’s request to freeze a lawsuit alleging the White House intended to discriminate against Hispanics with its drive to add the citizenship question, reports Efe news.
The judge’s order on Friday followed a Justice Department filing in the case saying it was still exploring whether and how to continue fighting to add the question.
Administration lawyers worked over the July Fourth holiday to try to come up with a path for getting the question onto the census forms, which are already being printed without it.
“The Departments of Justice and Commerce have been asked to re-evaluate all available options following the Supreme Court’s decision and whether the Supreme Court’s decision (in a separate census case) would allow for a new decision to include the citizenship question,” the lawyers wrote in a court filing.
The judge’s order, in a Maryland case, potentially added to pressure on the Justice Department, which now may have to turn over reams of documents to plaintiffs seeking evidence that disputes the administration’s claims that it didn’t have a discriminatory motive in wanting to add the question.
Material found on a computer that belonged to a now-deceased Republican consultant in North Carolina raised questions about the origins of the effort.
The government had asked US District Judge George Hazel, in Greenbelt, Maryland, to put the discrimination case on ice until the administration decides whether to renew its legal campaign to add the question following last week’s Supreme Court decision that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross gave “contrived” rationales for the plan that flouted policy-making requirements.
Judge Hazel was having none of it, saying discovery related to the origins of the question would “still remain relevant” and should begin without delay.
Friday’s developments were the latest turns in the White House drive to get the citizenship question added to the census form. But the government did little to clarify how it is going to respond to the Supreme Court’s requirement for a legitimate rationale; the administration had said the question was needed to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.
On Tuesday, the Commerce and Justice departments announced the fight was over and the forms were being sent to the printer without the question.
Trump speculated on Friday the administration could “maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision”.
“I have a lot of respect for Justice Roberts,” Trump said, referring to the chief justice. “But he didn’t like it, but he did say come back.”
The creation of political districts historically has been based on total population, rather than citizen population, and the Constitution requires “counting the whole number of persons in each State.”
Separately, plaintiffs in a New York case asked a judge there to block the Trump administration from adding the question because the Justice Department had previously said June 30 was the deadline for finishing the census form.
The motion, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of immigrant-rights groups, says the government invoked that deadline to persuade courts to expedite the case, forcing the plaintiffs to forego discovery they believe could have helped prove a discriminatory motive behind the policy.
At the White House before leaving for New Jersey, Trump said he had four or five options on the question but didn’t say what they were.
Conservative lawyers, however, have been floating ideas on the matter in opinion columns.
One approach, laid out by radio host Hugh Hewitt laid last week in the Washington Post, proposes a new rationale for the citizenship question based on the fact that many of the Democratic candidates in a televised debate last week expressed support for expanding Medicare to younger US citizens and certain non-citizens.
The citizenship question hasn’t been asked on the main census form since 1950, although the Census Bureau collects citizenship data through its American Community Survey. The survey, which some 3.5 million households are required to complete annually, is used by federal, state and local policy makers, along with businesses, nonprofits and academic researchers.
Congress never passed implementing legislation, and the federal government never has sought to enforce the provision.
“With subsequent constitutional amendments adopted and the use of federal coercive powers to enfranchise persons, the section is little more than an historical curiosity,” according to the official Constitution Annotated published by the Congressional Research Service.
If the administration does devise a new rationale, the Justice Department filing acknowledged, the plaintiffs “will be fully entitled to challenge that decision at that time.”
The case before Judge Hazel alleges that the citizenship question was devised to discriminate against Hispanics. The plaintiffs contend that recently discovered evidence traces the question to a Republican political strategist whose research indicated it would help shift political power to white voters and Republicans in redistricting.