U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments on census citizenship question

Written by: Sarah Hughes
Date Posted: April 26, 2019

The Supreme Court case to decide whether a question about citizenship status can appear on the 2020 Census began on Tuesday with the justices hearing oral arguments. The case is the latest chapter in an ongoing legal challenge to the Trump administration’s decision to add an untested question about citizenship status to the decennial census for the first time in 70 years.

Three federal judges in Maryland, New York and California have already found that the Trump administration violated several provisions of federal law in the manner in which they added the question to the census. The Supreme Court’s conservative justices appear poised to allow the question to be included on the census next year despite unanimous lower court rulings that the addition of the question was illegal, as well as e-mails that reveal the Commerce Department’s stated motive for adding the question was disingenuous. The court’s final ruling is expected by June.

Six former Census Bureau directors from Republican and Democratic administrations agree that adding an untested, unnecessary question about citizenship status will depress response rates and undermine the accuracy of the 2020 Census. Opposition to the citizenship question has transcended partisanship and politics because this last-minute question will hurt everyone. The Census Bureau’s own analysis found that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census would lower response rates among noncitizens by 6 percent, resulting in higher costs associated with follow-up and an inaccurate count of our nation’s population. Although a 6 percent undercount of noncitizens may sound small, it represents 6.5 million people who would be left out of the nation’s population count. If the count is inaccurate in 2020, our country will feel the effects for a decade: political representation will be allocated inaccurately among the states, important data will be flawed for the next 10 years, and states including Colorado could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for critical programs that support families.

The federal government is constitutionally required to count all people living in the United States in the census—not just those who are citizens. Census population counts are used to determine where to build new roads, schools and hospitals. Businesses also use census data to make important decisions about where to advertise, what products to stock in different regions, and where to open stores and offices. All of these decisions rely upon an accurate count of all people living in a particular area, citizens and non-citizens alike. The citizenship question puts this count in jeopardy.

Stay tuned to KidsFlash for further updates on the 2020 Census and the Supreme Court case.

Sarah Hughes

About Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes is Vice President of Research Initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. In this role, she leads the organization’s research and data analysis efforts, including the development and publication of the annual KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, and provides research and data support to inform and advance the Children’s Campaign’s policy agenda. She also co-chairs the organization’s internal Equity Team. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign, Sarah worked in communications and spent several years working and volunteering with kids in various capacities.