HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut’s elected officials cautiously celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court decision Thursday which says the Trump administration’s explanation for adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census was “contrived.”
The reason the U.S. Commerce Department gave for needing to ask the question “is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decisionmaking process,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.
“We do not hold that the agency decision here was substantively invalid,” Roberts added. “But agencies must pursue their goals reasonably. Reasoned decisionmaking under the Administrative Procedure Act calls for an explanation for agency action. What was provided here was more of a distraction.”
The decision to send the case back to the lower court was unanimous, but the justices disagreed about whether U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross abused his discretion when they remanded the case back to the U.S. District Court in New York.
Connecticut is one of 18 states and 16 local governments and the U.S.Conference of Mayors that was a party to the lawsuit.
Why does the citizenship question matter?
If noncitizen households are undercounted by as little as 2% they will lose out on federal funds that are distributed on the basis of state population. The Commerce Department argued it needed to include the question on the census at the request of the Department of Justice, which sought improved data about citizen voting-age population for purposes of enforcing the Voting Rights Act.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said the question was “specifically proposed to create a political advantage for ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,’ and its inclusion in the census would have made a mockery of the census’ charge to count every person.
“The census is meant to count the number of people in the United States, not advantage political parties or racial groups, and today the Supreme Court rejected the Trump Commerce Department’s attempt to suppress that count.”
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz has been working to make sure immigrant communities and non-citizens are counted.
“We are working very hard to ensure that communities of color and our states largest ethnic group, our Latino community, and our undocumented residents are counted accurately because $11 billion in federal funding and our political representation depends upon an accurate count,” Bysiewicz said.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong thanked Bysiewicz for doing the not so glamorous work of making sure everyone is counted.
He said Thursday was a good day, but not a great day.
“This decision is a victory for honest, good government — a rebuke of the Trump Administration’s fake and cynical ploy to manipulate the census,” Tong said. “The citizenship question has always been a nakedly discriminatory effort to undercount immigrants and thus undercut their voting power and undermine states like Connecticut.”
The Commerce Department will need to go back to court and make another argument for wanting to include the citizenship question in the 2020 census.
Tong said the bar will be much higher this time.
Bysiewicz called on Ross to say that he will not go forward with the question.
“Those questionnaires have to go out shortly and we’ve already had damage done with this discussion,” Bysiewicz said.
The government has a July 1 deadline for printing census materials, but that deadline was set by the Commerce Department and the U.S. Census Bureau.
The damage has already been done.
“People are really afraid across this state,” Tong said.
“It’s not just the census. It’s the travel ban. It’s the wall. It’s the president’s threats of a round up and then they’re going to put them in what? In camps? That’s what’s got people so scared,” Tong said.
Tong warned that the victory may be temporary and the Trump administration could renew its efforts to revive the question.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the only way the Trump administration can get the question back in the census “is to compound their lies.”
“There is no doubt that Trump Administration officials deliberately and repeatedly lied to the courts and to the American people about their intent on the census citizenship question,” Blumenthal said. “The Trump Administration’s actions were despicable, undemocratic and unconstitutional.”