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Analysis

A Showdown on the Census Citizenship Question Is Coming to the Supreme Court

The Court is expected to issue an opinion before the end of June 2019.

February 15, 2019

Today, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear oral argu­ments on the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s decision to add a citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census. The addi­tion of such a ques­tion would likely depress census turnout, skew the alloc­a­tion of congres­sional seats, and change how billions of dollars in federal fund­ing are distrib­uted to the states.

The decision comes after a federal court in New York ruled against the admin­is­tra­tion in the case, New York v. United States Depart­ment of Commerce. The lower court had decided that the Commerce Depart­ment’s decision to add the ques­tion was “arbit­rary” and made in viol­a­tion of federal law.

In an unusual move, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion appealed the lower court’s ruling directly to the Supreme Court, rather than going first to the court of appeals.

The Supreme Court agreed to take up two ques­tions. First, the Justices will consider whether the New York court was correct to block the citizen­ship ques­tion. Second, the Court will decide if the lower court prop­erly allowed the groups chal­len­ging the ques­tion to obtain docu­ments and other inform­a­tion from the federal govern­ment.  

The Court also gran­ted the admin­is­tra­tion’s request for a quicker-than-normal sched­ule, setting oral argu­ment for the second week of the April argu­ment session. This exped­ited timeline means the Court should issue an opin­ion before the end of June 2019, which is crucial to ensure that the 2020 Census can proceed on time.

For more on the case, visit our case page. For more on the 2020 Census, visit our resource page.

(Image: Chip Somod­ev­illa/Getty)