Trump erupts after Supreme Court rejects 2020 census citizenship question: 'USA! USA! USA!'

Tom Embury-Dennis

Donald Trump has erupted with anger after his administration ended its effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 US census.

The White House and Justice Department said it would begin printing forms without the contentious query, despite the US president saying last week he would attempt to indefinitely delay the census until the query was added.

It came after a Supreme Court ruling on 27 June faulted the administration for its original attempt to include it.

“A very sad time for America when the Supreme Court of the United States won’t allow a question of ‘Is this person a Citizen of the United States?’ to be asked on the #2020 Census! Going on for a long time” Mr Trump tweeted late on Tuesday.

“I have asked the Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice to do whatever is necessary to bring this most vital of questions, and this very important case, to a successful conclusion. USA! USA! USA!”

Mr Trump’s suggestion the question could still appear on the census contrasted with commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, who said he would “respect” the ruling despite disagreeing with it.

“The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question. My focus, and that of the bureau and the entire department, is to conduct a complete and accurate census," Mr Ross said.

Although the Supreme Court left open the possibility of the administration adding the question, there was little time left for the government to come up with a new rationale.

The government had said in court filings that it needed to finalise the details of the questionnaire by the end of June.

Critics have called the citizenship question a Republican ploy to scare immigrants into not taking part in the population count and engineer an undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant and Latino populations.

That would benefit non-Hispanic whites and help Mr Trump's fellow Republicans gain seats in the US House of Representatives and state legislatures, the critics said.

“In light of the Supreme Court's ruling, the Trump administration had no choice but to proceed with printing the 2020 census forms without a citizenship question,” said Dale Ho, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which had fought the Trump administration in court.

"Everyone in America counts in the census, and today's decision means we all will."

The Trump administration had told the courts its rationale for adding the question was to better enforce a law that protects the voting rights of racial minorities. Critics called that rationale a pretext, with the Supreme Court's majority embracing that theory.

The court's 5-4 ruling, which saw conservative chief justice John Roberts join the court's four liberals in the majority, ultimately proved decisive.

“While the Trump Administration may have attempted to politicise the census and punish cities and states across the nation, justice prevailed, and the census will continue to remain a tool for obtaining an accurate count of our population,” said New York attorney general Letitia James, who also challenged the question.

The census is used to allot seats in the US House of Representatives and distribute some $800bn (£637bn) in federal funds. Opponents have said the citizenship question would instil fear in immigrant households that the information would be shared with law enforcement, deterring them from taking part.

Citizenship status has not been asked of all households since the 1950 census. Since then, it was included only on questionnaires sent to a smaller subset of the population.

Manhattan-based US district judge Jesse Furman ruled on 15 January the Commerce Department's decision to add the question violated the Administrative Procedure Act. Federal judges in Maryland and California also have issued rulings to block the question.

Mr Furman said the evidence showed that Mr Ross had concealed his true motives for adding the citizenship question and that he and his aides had convinced the Justice Department to request it.

Evidence surfaced in May that the challengers said showed the administration's plan to add a citizenship question was intended to discriminate against racial minorities.

Additional reporting by Reuters