WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday dug his heels in to include a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 census despite a Supreme Court ruling to block it.
Trump’s administration had earlier this week dropped its plans to ask census respondents if they are U.S. citizens or not, but the Republican president forced a policy reversal and is vowing to push ahead.
“Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice are working very hard on this, even on the 4th of July!” Trump tweeted on Thursday, hours before he planned to preside over Independence Day celebrations in Washington.
The Supreme Court last week blocked the inclusion of the question, saying administration officials had given a “contrived” rationale for including the query in the decennial population survey. But it left open the possibility that the administration could offer a plausible rationale.
After the ruling, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the Census Bureau had started the process of printing the census questionnaires without the citizenship query.
Trump ordered a policy reversal on Wednesday, saying he would fight on.
The census is used to allot seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and distribute some $800 billion in federal services, including public schools, Medicaid benefits, law enforcement and highway repairs.
Critics have called the citizenship question a Republican ploy to scare immigrants into not participating and engineer a population undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant populations. They say that would help Trump’s fellow Republicans gain seats in the House and state legislatures when new electoral district boundaries are drawn.
Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country. His hard-line policies on immigration have been a key element of his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign.
Axios reported that Trump was considering issuing an executive order on including the question, citing a senior legal source. The White House and the Justice Department (DOJ) did not respond to requests for comment on the report.
A lawyer at the DOJ told a Maryland-based federal judge late on Wednesday that the agency was instructed to examine whether there is a path forward to add the question. The judge said he wants a final response by Friday afternoon.
Jens David Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School, said an executive order was unlikely to solve the issue.
“The census is handled by the Commerce Secretary. The Supreme Court concluded that there was a ‘mismatch’ between Wilbur’s decision and his explanation for it,” Ohlin said. “Any new explanation would have to come from Ross and would need to cycle through the federal courts.”
That process could take weeks or months. “Given the printing deadline, I don’t see how all of this could happen in time,” Ohlin said.
The Supreme Court’s ruling had left open the possibility of Trump adding the question in the future with a new rationale, an outcome that seemed unlikely because administration officials had said in court filings that they needed to finalize the details of the census questionnaire by the end of June.