Trump 'looking at' delay on census

Government asks for more time to make case

By Gregory Wallace
Getty Images

President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Donald Trump said Monday his administration is "looking at" delaying the 2020 census after the Supreme Court last week blocked the administration from adding a question about citizenship status on the decennial survey.

His comments came as government attorneys on Monday evening asked a federal court in Maryland for another day to figure out their next steps, according to the plaintiffs in that case. The parties will next brief the court on Tuesday afternoon, the group said.

Speaking at the White House, Trump referred to the census' key role in determining how government resources are spent.

"I think it's very important to find out if somebody is a citizen as opposed to an illegal," he said. "I think there's a big difference, to me, between being a citizen of the United States and being an illegal."

Trump also said last week he was looking at pushing a delay in the population count.

"I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter," he wrote on Twitter.

The printing of census forms, scheduled to begin Monday, is apparently on hold pending Tuesday's court hearing. The government had earlier told the courts that time was of the essence to render their rulings, because the deadline to tell the printing company which version of the census form to use -- with the citizenship question or without -- was July 1.

"We have film that will be prepared for our printer for either decision," associate census director Al Fontenot explained in April. "When the July 1 deadline comes, for us, we say run film A or run film B."

Any delay "jeopardizes that schedule," Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a letter to the Supreme Court last week. Although this census is the first where officials are encouraging most households to answer online, the bureau still expects many to reply on paper, requiring the government to print hundreds of millions of forms, postcards and other documents to be mailed and delivered to households around the US next year.

Spokespeople from the Justice Department and Census Bureau did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' decision to add the question sparked a fight over the decennial count, which is used to determine representation in Congress and which local governments receive federal funds. Trump said the citizenship question is a natural part of counting the population, but critics have said it will deter minority groups and noncitizens from responding.

Critics challenged Ross' claim that the Justice Department needs citizenship data to enforce voting protections, noting he personally asked the attorney general to request the question. Both critics and the Census Bureau's own experts believe the question will depress responses from minority groups including noncitizens.

In its decision, the Supreme Court left the door open to the government offering a different justification for the question.

Federal law sets constraints on when the decennial count of the country's population will be taken. April 1, 2020, is the official census day, although counting is set to begin as early as January in some areas, and the law requires the tally that is used to draw legislative districts "shall be completed within 9 months," meaning by the end of 2020.

In a New York courtroom last fall, the Census Bureau's chief scientist, John Abowd, answered yes when asked if the latest the bureau "can lock down the content of the census questionnaire" was the end of June, unless it receives "exceptional resources," in which case the government has until October 31.

Prior to the Supreme Court's decision in late June, the government pointed to the fast-approaching July regular printing deadline, while the challengers urged the courts to look at the October date as the real deadline.

One of the attorneys challenging the case in the New York court told reporters it would be hypocritical for the government to change course after the decision while it figures out how to preserve the question.

"I think the government has repeatedly said in its response to our filings that they intend to start printing on Monday, next week, so I think there really, really is not time and if the administration tries to rush it, that's a clear red flag," said Dale Ho, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The separate case in Maryland has played out parallel to the New York case that went to the Supreme Court. Challengers there had asked the judge to consider new evidence, including an unpublished 2015 study conducted by a now-deceased Republican redistricting expert who found asking such a question would allow for redrawing legislative districts that "would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites."

Judge George Hazel found the question and process of deciding to include it violated the Constitution and a law outlining the process for government decisions, but did not find enough evidence to agree with the critics' argument that the question was intended to discriminate.

After the new evidence came to light, the judge said he wanted to allow up to 45 days of discovery to consider that and other evidence on the arguments about discrimination.

CNN's Noah Gray contributed to this report.

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