The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments over a Trump administration plan to add a question to the 2020 Census asking respondents if they are a U.S. citizen.
Observers say the justices appear divided along ideological lines, giving an edge to the proposed change. The administration says citizenship data will help ensure proper enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. But opponents argue the move didn’t go through proper channels and is designed to discourage immigrants from responding.
“(It’s well-documented that) the administration had the goal of adding the citizenship question, and was shopping for what they viewed as an acceptable reason in the eyes of the Supreme Court to do so,” said Andy Kang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago. His organization is part of a legal effort to block the question. “The goal is to minimize and marginalize the political power of communities of color, specifically immigrant residents of our country.”
“Motive or intent is not a proper question if there are facially supportive grounds under the Constitution (and) the statutes … which here there are,” said David Applegate, a partner with the firm Williams Montgomery & John and a legal policy advisor to Heartland Institute. “I think it is remarkable that, in a sense, the lower court put the burden of proof on the administration to show good faith in asking a question … that, in my view, any form of government committed to citizen legislators and citizen participation would want to know.”
But Kang argues the constitutionally mandated purpose of the census is merely to get an accurate population count for purposes of drawing congressional district lines and divvying up federal resources – and, he says there are better ways to determine how many citizens and noncitizens live in the U.S. His group and other organizations stress that regardless of the court’s ruling, education will be key to ensure an accurate census count.
“Our hope is community members will make the choice to respond and make sure that we aren’t invisible and are seen and heard from in the census data,” Kang said.
While Applegate disagrees that the citizenship question will depress the response rate, he agrees that outreach is important.
“If that is a genuine concern, it seems to me the appropriate response is not to say that we should not ask an important question. Rather than defining democracy down, we should educate our population,” Applegate said.
A ruling is expected in June.
Kang and Applegate join “Chicago Tonight” for a conversation.