Trump to ‘unlawfully’ demand citizenship question included on census despite Supreme Court ruling

Donald Trump will insist that 2020 census respondents are made to declare whether they are citizens, despite the Supreme Court ruling the question could not be included on forms, according to a US government official.

The president is expected to issue a memorandum instructing his Commerce Department to include the question, a move critics warned would be “illegal” and could trigger “a constitutional crisis”.

The US Census Bureau has said requiring respondents to declare if they are citizens would discourage immigrants from participating in the survey and result in a less accurate count. That in turn, according to critics, would redistribute money and political power away from Democratic-led cities to whiter, rural areas which vote Republican.

Democratic house speaker Nancy Pelosi this week suggested Mr Trump was demanding citizenship information because he wanted to “make America white again”.

The Supreme Court ruled last month the question could not be included on the 2020 census, with judges saying the administration’s justification for requiring such information was “contrived”.

Mr Trump’s administration initially accepted defeat and said it would print the forms as is, but later ordered lawyers to find a way to include it.

Attorney general William Barr said on Monday he believed there was a legal route to require census respondents to declare whether or not they are citizens.

He added the Trump administration would take action in the coming days to allow the government to add the controversial census query. Mr Barr declined to give further details of the plan, but an unidentified senior official told the Associated Press the president was expected to issue a directive to the Commerce Department instructing it to include the question on census forms.

Civil rights groups warned any attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court’s ruling would set “a dangerous precedent”.

Beth Lynk, director of the Census Counts campaign at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told The Independent: “This is a really dangerous attempt to undermine a fair and accurate census. The Supreme Court has clearly ruled and said the administration’s addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 census was unlawful.”

“What the president is doing is just a dangerous sewing of confusion and really setting a dangerous precedent of interrupting of the separation of powers that we have in this country,” she added.

“The Commerce Department and the Census Bureau need to be able to move forward with doing their constitutionally mandated job of printing the forms – and it’s 1.5 billion pieces of paper – because if we have a delay of the census that would be a constitutional crisis.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which challenged the citizenship question in court, vowed to fight “any attempt at an end run around the Supreme Court’s decision”.

“The administration is now examining whether it can concoct a ‘new rationale’ for its citizenship question,” said Dale Ho, the ACLU’s voting rights project director. ”The answer is no, it cannot – at least not a legal one.”

The Justice Department announced it is replacing the legal team that has been pursuing Mr Trump’s efforts to include the citizenship question, putting in place a new team consisting of both career and politically appointed lawyers.

James Burnham, a top lawyer in the department’s civil division who had been leading the previous team, had told Mr Barr a number of people who had been litigating the case preferred “not to continue during this new phase,” the attorney general said.

Mr Barr said he did not have details on why the lawyers wanted no more part in the case, but “as far as I know, they don’t think we are legally wrong”.

The attorney general said he has been in regular contact with the president over the issue and “I agree with him that the Supreme Court decision was wrong”. He added he believed there was “an opportunity potentially to cure the lack of clarity that was the problem and we might as well take a shot at doing that”.

The Trump administration has claimed it wanted the question on the census to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But chief justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, joined the Supreme Court’s four more liberal members in voicing scepticism about that justification.