Posted by Suher Adi on July 25, 2019 in Blog

The highly anticipated decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on whether or not a question on citizenship can be added to the 2020 Census has been decided. In a complicated decision, the court ruling can be summarized in three parts. First, the court ruled the question is not in violation of the constitution and, moreover, is not seen as “arbitrary” for the Bureau to instate a question on citizenship on the census. Second, the court ruled the reasoning the Trump Administration gave for adding the citizenship question---that it was to aid implementation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA)--- “seems to have been contrived.” Therefore the case was sent back to the district court for the administration to provide different reasoning for the addition of the citizenship question. Throughout the case, the U.S.Solicitor General stated the forms needed to be finalized by June 2019 to meet the print deadline for the 2020 Census. It was shortly after the SCOTUS decision that lawyers with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and representatives from the Department of Commerce said the administration will no longer pursue the addition of the question, and the printing of forms has begun.

That was when the President of the United States tweeted he is still attempting to add the citizenship question, and he called all other reports false. His tweets began a flurry of misinformation and confusion around the Census. He tweeted he would ask lawyers to examine delaying the 2020 Census until the citizenship question was approved, even after current and past Census Bureau Directors said a delay is a major risk for completing the census to the best of the agency’s ability. It must be noted that any delay of the census requires congressional approval because it is constitutionally mandated to take place every ten years.

Hours after the tweets were sent, judges in the New York and Maryland lower court cases contacted the DOJ to clarify what the administration was doing regarding the question. Judge Hazel from the Maryland case asked for a teleconference call to question the DOJ about the meaning of Trump's tweets because they were contradictory to the DOJ’s previous testimony that the form was going to be printed without the question on it. The DOJ lawyer said, "I am doing my absolute best to figure out what is going on," which indicates clear internal confusion from the administration about what was truly happening in regards to the citizenship question. However, the DOJ lawyer also said at 3:30 pm the day following the Trump twitter storm that, "I can tell you that I have confirmed that the Census Bureau is continuing with the process of printing the questionnaire without a citizenship question, and that process has not stopped." The bottom line: the form is still being printed without the citizenship question and the DOJ was being "instructed to examine whether there [was] a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court decision" as a means of including the citizenship question. 

Judge Furman in the New York case asked for a written letter by DOJ explaining what was happening, and gave them until Friday, July 5th to continue existing litigation or to confirm they were no longer moving forward with pursuing the citizenship question. In their letter to the NY Judge, DOJ wrote "the process of printing the questionnaires without the citizenship question continues," and "DOJ and Commerce have now been asked to reevaluate all available options" to include the question, so they might come up with "a new rationale" to present to the court as to why they want to include a citizenship question.

About a week later, Trump announced in a press conference that he would be dropping the citizenship question litigation and would issue an executive order instead to attain citizenship data. Specifically, he will be using administrative records, the same records DOJ lawyers and his administration said would not be accurate or sufficient enough to enforce the VRA. This executive order confirms and follows the logic of the research presented in the Hofeller memo which states that obtaining citizenship data through the census could be used to redraw congressional maps for political gerrymandering and ensuring political gain for “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

Ultimately, we won, but the work to ensure a fair and accurate count of Arab Americans in the 2020 Census continues. At this moment, we must work to ensure all members of the Arab American community, and other hard to count communities, fill out their census forms and are counted in 2020. By assuring confidentiality of responses, emphasizing the importance of the Census to congressional representation and funding for services we all use, and consistent community outreach, the#YallaCountMeIn campaign seeks to encourage all Arab Americans to complete the Census. A fair and accurate count is of importance to all and is a component of democracy our country depends on. Get Out the Count with #YallaCountMeIn by individually pledging to fill out the Census in 2020 or becoming an organizational partner here.