Trump Orders Justice Department to Find Way to Add Citizenship Question to Census

July 3, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – A lawyer for the Justice Department said Wednesday that President Donald Trump has ordered it to find a way to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, despite an announcement yesterday that the documents were already being printed.

In a teleconference with a federal judge in Maryland, Joseph Hunt, an assistant attorney general with DOJ’s civil division, said the department has been “instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision, that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census.”

“We think there may be a legally available path under the Supreme Court’s decision,” Hunt said to U.S. District Judge George Hazel.  

“We’re examining that, looking at near-term options to see whether that’s viable and possible,” Hunt said.

Hazel, who is currently overseeing the federal lawsuit over the citizenship question in Maryland, had given the Trump administration until 2 p.m. on Friday to say that it will no longer pursue adding the question to the census.

Now he’s been told that the department plans to file a motion in the Supreme Court that would “govern further proceedings in order to simplify and expedite the remaining litigation and provide clarity to the process going forward.”

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court said the citizenship question could not be added to the census because Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had not been forthcoming about his reasons for including it.

However, writing for a majority on the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said the question could be added if the thought process behind wanting to add it was more adequately explained.

On Tuesday night, after the DOJ announced the census was being printed without the question included, Trump tweeted, “The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”

Judge Hazel then reached out to the Justice Department for clarification.

During the teleconference, Hunt told the judge, “It’s very fluid at present because we are still examining the Supreme Court’s decision to see if that option is still available to us.” 

Judges handling census related litigation, including U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who has been handling one of the more high profile cases in the Southern District of New York, were notified of the about face by the Justice Department in writing on Wednesday evening.

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