If the Trump administration gets its way, federal law will require this question to be asked of each person living in all of the country’s households in 2020: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” It’s been close to 70 years since a citizenship question has been included among the census questions for every U.S. household.
The question’s wording comes from a survey the Census Bureau began conducting annually in every county after the 2000 census with about 1 in 38 households — the American Community Survey, which has since replaced the census as the government’s way of collecting citizenship information.
AP reports, three conservative justices, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, had expressed skepticism about the challenge to the question in earlier stages of the case, but Chief Justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh had been silent, possibly suggesting a willingness to disrupt the administration’s plan.
However, over 80 minutes in a packed courtroom, neither Roberts nor Kavanaugh appeared to share the concern of the lower court judges who ruled against the administration.
Kavanaugh, the court’s newest member and an appointee of President Donald Trump, suggested Congress could change the law if it so concerned that the accuracy of the once-a-decade population count will suffer. “Why doesn’t Congress prohibit the asking of the citizenship question?” Kavanaugh asked near the end of the morning session.
Kavanaugh and the other conservatives were mostly silent when Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, defended Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add the citizenship question. Ross has said the Justice Department wanted the citizenship data, the detailed information it would produce on where eligible voters live, to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.