Election Law

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After a loss in the U.S. Supreme Court, President Donald Trump has announced that he won’t add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Instead, Trump said Thursday, he will sign an executive order requiring federal agencies to provide the Commerce Department with records on citizenship count, report the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Census Bureau already conducts a separate, smaller survey that gathers citizenship information. Passport and Social Security applications also ask the question, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s decision to drop the question on the census follows court losses. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Commerce Department had to provide a better explanation of its decision to add a citizenship question to the census. Then this week two federal judges refused to allow the Justice Department to switch lawyers on the case absent a better explanation of the reason for the switch and assurances that the cases would not be disrupted.

Critics have said the real reason the administration wanted to add a citizenship question was to depress the count of immigrants and help Republicans when census data is used in redistricting. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had asserted that the question was being added to get better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Trump said Thursday that a citizenship count could be helpful in several areas and suggested that the data might be used by states that want to base state and local legislative districts on citizen count, rather than overall population. The legality of such a move is an open question, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Speaking after Trump’s Thursday announcement, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said the DOJ was studying whether the citizenship data could be used in redistricting.

Barr said census forms were already being printed, and it was too late to add the question.

Trump’s decision follows a flip-flop on the issue. Trump tweeted July 3 that “we are absolutely moving forward” with the question even though DOJ lawyers had asserted in court that the question was being dropped.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said she is “jubilant” over Trump’s decision to drop the question, according to the Washington Post account. “If he had tried to defy the Supreme Court, that would have been a constitutional crisis,” Pelosi told reporters.