Just the Facts

Five Facts on the U.S. Census Supreme Court Decision

By No Labels
July 9, 2019 | Blog

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the U.S. Census and the question of citizenship. These are the facts on the Supreme Court decision.

The primary purpose of the decennial census is to determine how many seats in the House of Representatives each state will have. 

Seats in the House are allocated by population, based on censusdata collected every 10 years. The number of seats in the House a state gets also influences how many votes it gets in the Electoral College[1]. For this reason, it is crucial that the Census Bureau conducts an accurate count of people living in each state, so seats can be allocated accordingly. Census data also is used to distribute public funds for education, health care, law enforcement and highways.

The Trump administrationwants to add a citizenship question to the 2020 censusform that every household will receive. 

Every household in America will receive a “short form” census. The Trump administration wants to add the citizenship question to this short form census, for the first time since 1950. Every household would be required to answer the citizenship question. A smaller number of U.S. households receive a longer and more detailed form called the American Community Survey. A citizenship question has been included on the longer form census since 1970. Only 1 in 6 households receive the longer form census[2]

Adding a citizenship question could deter noncitizens from participating in the census. 

A study conducted by the Census Bureau in 2018 found that immigrant groups saw the addition of a citizenship question as a way for the government to find undocumented immigrants[3]. The fear of being tracked for deportation by the government could significantly drive down participation within communities of color and immigrant communities[4]. Since the communities affected live largely in urban coastal areas, adding the question would give more political power to rural, white, Republican communities. 

The Department of Commerce v New York Supreme Court Case decided whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to reinstate a citizenship question violated legal and constitutional provision. 

The Commerce secretaryclaimed that he was adding the question in response to a December 2017 Department of Justice request to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, protecting the rights of minority groups in elections. The Supreme Court ruled on June 27, 2019 that this explanation did not match the evidence collected, which suggested that Ross decided to add the citizenship question for political reasons before receiving the DOJ letter[5].However, this does not mean that a citizenship question could not be added in the future. It is within legal bounds to ask about citizenship on the census,[6]and the Supreme Court has left open the possibility that the Trump administration could offer a justifiable reason to include the citizenship question.

The Trump administrationrequested a delay of the census after the Supreme Court decision. 

President Trump tweeted that he had requested lawyers delay the census until the Supreme Court received additional information and re-decided the case. The censusdate is formalized as April 1, 2020 in accordance with the Census Act, and would need to be changed through legislation for a delay to be constitutional. A delay by executive order would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, according to legal expert Terri Ann Lowenthal, former staff director of the House of Representatives subcommittee overseeing the census[7]


[1]https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/27/us/citizenship-question-census.html

[2]https://www.npr.org/2018/03/27/597436512/fact-check-has-citizenship-been-a-standard-census-question

[3]https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/2020-census/planning-management/final-analysis/2020-report-cbams-study-survey.html

[4]https://www.npr.org/2019/06/29/735073641/how-the-fight-over-the-census-citizenship-question-could-rage-on

[5]https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legal-work/FindingsofFact_%202019-04-05.pdf

[6]https://www.npr.org/2019/06/29/735073641/how-the-fight-over-the-census-citizenship-question-could-rage-on

[7]https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-census-constitution/trumps-idea-for-us-census-delay-would-be-unprecedented-experts-idUSKCN1TS30W

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