The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday pledged to take the Trump administration to court once more should the president follow through on his renewed efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
“The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s effort to add a census citizenship question was illegal because it was based on a ‘contrived’ rationale,” Dale Ho, the ACLU’s voting rights project director, said in a statement. “Despite that, and despite DOJ’s repeated statements that the census questionnaire cannot be changed after June 30, the administration is now examining whether it can concoct a ‘new rationale’ for its citizenship question.”
Ho added: “The answer is no, it cannot — at least not a legal one. Any attempt at an end run around the Supreme Court’s decision will be unsuccessful, and will be met swiftly in court.”
United States District Judge George J. Hazel reportedly told lawyers for the Trump administration on Wednesday that they had until Friday to decide whether to pursue the citizenship question.
Trump said Thursday morning in a tweet that officials were “working very hard on this, even on the 4th of July!”
The census was slated to go to print on July 1 but has been delayed over the citizenship question.
The White House yo-yoed in the past week on its much criticized effort to add the question to the decennial national survey. On Tuesday, the Trump administration said it would drop its bid to add the question to the census following a Supreme Court decision that temporarily barred the government from adding it. The move was praised by the ACLU and other voting rights advocates at the time, but any celebration was short-lived.
Although it was initially reported that the Supreme Court decision led the White House to drop its plans for the question, Trump declared Wednesday on Twitter that those reports were “FAKE.” The White House is “absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question,” he wrote.
The Justice Department said shortly thereafter it would continue to investigate how to include the question about respondents’ citizenship, telling a federal judge in Maryland it was seeking a “path forward.”
“We think there may be a legally available path under the Supreme Court’s decision,” Joseph Hunt, assistant attorney general for the civil division of the Justice Department, told the judge on Wednesday. “We’re examining that, looking at near-term options to see whether that’s viable and possible.”
The ACLU has argued that adding a question related to citizenship on the census, in what could be the first time in 70 years, would intimidate communities of color and result in a massive undercount of up to 6.5 million people. The organization also claimed the effort was an unconstitutional means to bypass immigrants’ rights and reduce their political influence.
“If the citizenship question is part of the survey and there is a sizable undercount, states with large immigrant populations could very well lose political representation in Congress,” the group said.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the question would be barred for now, calling the Trump administration’s rationale “contrived.” But Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, left open the door for it to be included in the future if the government provided an adequate reason why it should be.
If Trump does go forward with the question, it’s unclear how the Census Bureau will cope with adding it to its 2020 questionnaire. The agency repeatedly said it needed a final answer from the courts by June 30 so it could print the census forms in time.
Sara Boboltz contributed to this report.
This article has been updated with Hazel’s comments to Trump’s lawyers and Trump’s tweet from Thursday.