Trump says quiet part out loud, claims census citizenship question is needed to determine districts

Justice Department lawyers said they're still exploring ways to include the question in the survey.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media prior to his departure from the White House July 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media prior to his departure from the White House July 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Justice Department lawyers on Friday told a U.S. district court that they are still exploring options for justifying adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, hours after President Donald Trump told reporters that the question was necessary to determine accurate congressional representation.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that the government did not meet standards for why a citizenship question was needed on the decennial survey, calling the administration out on its lie that it wanted to add the question so that it could better enforce the Voting Rights Act. The court ruled that the Trump administration would need a better rationale.

A lower court in Maryland gave the administration until Friday afternoon to either commit to not including the citizenship question on the census or to provide an explanation for how to proceed.

“In the event the Commerce Department adopts a new rationale for including the citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census consistent with the decisions of the Supreme Court, the Government will immediately notify this Court so that it can determine whether there is any need for further proceedings or relief,” the Department of Justice said in the filing.


The administration did not provide a timeline for when a “new rationale” would be adopted. The government could file a motion for the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling within 25 days of the high court’s June 27 decision.

Given the lack of a definitive answer on the part of the Trump administration, the block on the citizenship question will remain in place. Officials told CNN earlier on Friday that the census forms will be printed without the question.

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling — and the administration’s subsequent announcement that the census would be printed without the citizenship question — President Trump does not appear willing to give up the pursuit of including the question.

On Thursday he tweeted that the inclusion of the “very simple and basic” question was “so important.”

Earlier on Friday morning, Trump told reporters that one possible option for ensuring that the question is posed could be an executive order. Another, he said, is an addendum to the survey that would ask the question at a later date. 


“It’s one of the ways — we have four or five ways we can do it,” said the president. “It’s one of the ways that we’re thinking about doing it very seriously.”

But the former approach is likely not a viable option, as the responsibility for carrying out the census rests on Congress, not the president. The latter approach would likely face legal challenges as the administration would have to provide justification for including the question.

In the same briefing with reporters, the president also falsely claimed that the citizenship question is necessary to determine accurate representation in Congress (in fact, districts are determined based on total population, not citizenship).

Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake argued that in making this claim, Trump “gives away the game.” Indeed, opponents of the citizenship question have long argued that Trump’s insistence on including the question was largely premised on creating more Republican districts.


California Rep. Ted Lieu (D) took to Twitter to say that Trump’s claim will likely make it harder for the administration to include the question in the census.


President Trump also falsely claimed that the citizenship question has “almost always been asked” on the survey.

As ThinkProgress previously reported, the controversy over the citizenship question is just the latest in the myriad ways the Trump administration’s actions will likely lead to an undercount of marginalized communities in the United States — a problem that leads to those communities being underrepresented in Congress and receiving fewer federal funds.


Indeed, civil rights groups say the Trump administration, even without the citizenship question, is taking measures to further exacerbate the problem of undercounting.