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Supreme Court denies Trump administration’s request to stop census citizenship question lawsuit

"This is one of (the) most important cases for democracy in years."

Donald Trump at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia on August 21, 2018. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Donald Trump at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia on August 21, 2018. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court denied a motion by President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday to stop a lawsuit filed by several states over a citizenship question the White House wants to add to the 2020 census.

The top U.S. court’s ruling, which was not endorsed by Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas, means the lawsuit over the controversial census question will begin in New York on Monday, one day before the midterm elections.

A nationwide study commissioned by the Census Bureau confirmed that the proposed census question, which asks whether the respondent is a U.S. citizen, could be a “major barrier” to getting an accurate count during the decennial census.

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The Constitution requires counting each person in the United States — including undocumented immigrants — every 10 years.

However, undocumented immigrants are understandably wary of disclosing such information to an administration that has gone out of its way to target brown people, including attacking legal immigration.

“They tended to both believe that the purpose of the question was to find undocumented immigrants and that the political discourse is targeting their ethnic group,” said Sarah Evans, a researcher who was involved in focus groups for the census study. “This was an idea we heard across audiences.”

Focus group answers specifically cited the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a deterrent for filling out the census. “ICE is working with different groups on deportation sweeps, and it would make me feel like I’m aiding in that,” said an unidentified participant. “They’re doing a lot of illegal stuff, and so I wouldn’t fill out any of the questions.”

Another member of the focus groups, who said it felt as though Latinx people were being hunted, explained, “Latinos are going to be afraid to be counted because of the retaliation that could happen. It’s like giving the government information, saying, ‘Oh, there are more here.'”

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ThinkProgress’ Melanie Schmitz explained the potential consequences of the Trump administration’s tinkering with census questions.

An undercount might also disproportionately affect blue states with large immigrant populations, inflating Republican representation and under-representing marginalized populations in Washington and at the state level.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pushed adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census and pressured Department of Justice (DOJ) officials to speed up their analysis of the proposal. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly responded to tell Ross that his office was “eager to assist.” The Justice Department also recently admitted that former White House adviser Stephen Bannon and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach were also consulted by Ross in a court filing last month. The two men have made numerous remarks in favor of severely restricting immigration.

The Trump administration is facing lawsuits from several states over the addition of the citizenship question. The White House has fought to keep Ross from being deposed in those cases.

The Supreme Court blocked an upcoming deposition of Ross last week before allowing New York’s citizenship question lawsuit proceed on Friday.