As the United States approaches the next decennial census, a legal firestorm has been ignited due to the Trump Administration’s desire to include a question on citizenship.  In mid-January, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled the citizenship question could not be placed on the survey.  See New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, No. 1:2018-cv-02921-JMF (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 7, 2018).  The Administration has indicated it will appeal the district court’s ruling.

Background

Per the Constitutional requirement, the federal government conducts a census every 10 years to determine the population of citizens in each state of the United States.  The population count dictates the number of congressional seats per state and the distribution of federal funding to the states.  The census also has been used to collect demographic data about the U.S. population, including information about a person’s race, sex, age, and whether the respondent owns or rents his or her home.

The Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce is the federal agency responsible for conducting the census.  Although the citizenship question had been asked previously, the Census Bureau stopped asking it in 1950.  This year, the Census Bureau sought to include it again.  Opponents of the question maintain it will result in fewer responses in immigrant communities which will lead to a less accurate count.  The Trump Administration strongly disagrees and maintains the question is necessary to develop an accurate portrayal of the U.S. citizenship.

Litigation has ensued over this issue in numerous jurisdictions.  The opinion in the New York federal court is the first major ruling on this controversial question.  Given that the Census is fast approaching, the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court should be expedited.  Traditionally, the Commerce Department has tested and sampled its survey questions and assimilation methods in the year leading up to the census.  Thus, this legal issue needs to be resolved by the end of this year so that the Census Bureau can begin the process of counting the U.S. population.

Impact on 2020 Census

If the question remains on the survey, opponents have stated they will take drastic measures such as attempting to defund the census or taking other legislative actions to block the question.  Presumably, the Administration will fight just as hard to have the question asked.  Regardless of how the courts rule or which steps are next taken by the competing sides, this is yet another sign that the politics leading up to redistricting remain very hot and heavy.