The Supreme Court Will Soon Consider Whether the Census Will Include a Citizenship Question

He had long before decided to add the question, the judges found, and he pressured the Justice Department to supply a rationale.

It is telling, too, that no other Justice Department of any administration, including ones generally thought to have more vigorous commitments to voting rights than the Trump administration, had ever asked for a citizenship question to be added to the main census form since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

Mr. Ross also said he was merely reinstating the question, and it is true that the federal government has long gathered information about citizenship. “Most censuses in our history have asked about citizenship,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote in a dissent from a Supreme Court order allowing a trial on adding the citizenship question to move forward.

But the accuracy of that statement depends on what counts as a census. According to a recent article in The Georgetown Law Journal’s online supplement by Thomas P. Wolf and Brianna Cea, “the census has never asked for the citizenship status of everyone in the country.”

Until 1950, they wrote, various kinds of questions “about the citizenship or naturalization status of all foreign-born people” were sometimes posed, but no census sought the citizenship status of every person in the nation.

After 1950, they wrote, no question relating to citizenship was included in the forms sent once a decade to each household. Questions about citizenship did appear on “long form” questionnaires sent to a subset of households until 2000 and on a separate survey since then.

If the Supreme Court allows the question in 2020, the consequences will be vast, because the census is the foundation of American government and society, said Wendy R. Weiser, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, which filed a brief supporting the challengers.

“It will impact everything,” she said, “from the allocation of political representation and power, to the allocation of federal funds, to virtually everything in our society that depends upon data on the demographics of the country.”

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