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The Citizenship Question

Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census would have significantly reduced participation. We fought to permanently block citizenship questions from the upcoming headcount — and won.


In March 2018, the Trump admin­is­tra­­tion announced that it would direct the Census Bureau to include a ques­­tion on the 2020 census form asking respond­ents whether or not they were U.S. citizens. The decision was made over the objec­­tions of former census direct­ors, 161 Repub­­lican and Demo­cratic mayors, 19 state attor­neys general, more than 170 civil rights organ­­iz­a­­tions, and prom­in­ent busi­­ness lead­ers, among others. Census profes­­sion­als agreed that a citizen­­ship ques­­tion would signi­fic­antly reduce census parti­­cip­a­­tion, both by citizens and noncit­­izens. 

The courts agreed. After a year-long court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court rejec­ted the admin­is­tra­­tion’s attempt to add the citizen­­ship ques­­tion.

The Bren­nan Center and the Lead­er­­­ship Confer­­ence on Civil and Human Rights parti­­cip­ated at every step of the court chal­lenges, from trial courts around the coun­­try to the Supreme Court. These efforts culmin­ated with a friend-of-the-court brief for the Supreme Court joined by over 170 other civil soci­ety organ­­iz­a­­tions. The center further suppor­ted the fight by publish­ing reports and analysis disprov­ing the admin­is­tra­­tion’s histor­ical justi­fic­a­­tion for the ques­­tion and outlining the legal protec­­tions that prohibit the Census Bureau from using data against the people who supply it.

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