WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed Friday to weigh in on the dispute over the Trump administration’s plan to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census.
The issue that will come before the justices in February is what evidence can be considered in a challenge mounted by state and local governments and immigrant rights groups. They want to expose the decision-making process, while the administration has argued that’s irrelevant.
The court’s decisions on the matter could affect the political and financial clout of immigrant communities for the next decade. What’s at stake is an accurate count of immigrants in the Census, including non-citizens. Challengers fear a citizenship question could prompt many to avoid being counted.
That, in turn, could cause parts of the country with large percentages of immigrants – mostly in states dominated by Democrats – to be undercounted. That could result in a loss of federal funds and, potentially, seats in Congress.
The overall battle is not what will come before the Supreme Court at oral argument Feb. 19. Instead, the justices only agreed to hear the dispute over what evidence can be considered.
The justices already had refused the Trump administration’s request to delay an ongoing federal court trial in New York over the Commerce Department plan. The high court’s decision to take on the dispute could delay a ruling in that case.
The court had given both sides a partial victory earlier, when it said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross did not have to give a deposition concerning his decision-making process before the trial, but other federal officials could be questioned out of court.
Ross announced the addition of the citizenship question in March, but it has been tied up in court ever since. The government has not asked about individuals’ citizenship on the Census since 1950.
Opponents, including California, New York, the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration rights groups, contend fears of deportation among undocumented immigrants will cause them to be undercounted.
That could have two detrimental effects in immigrant communities. Areas with large immigrant populations, which tend to be urban and vote Democratic, could lose seats in the House of Representatives. They also could lose federal, state and local funds used for public works and social service projects.
Ross initially said the Justice Department wanted to reinstate the citizenship question as a means of enforcing the Voting Rights Act. It was later revealed that he made the decision himself and asked Justice Department officials to back him up, despite their reluctance.
The government recently acknowledged in court papers “for the sake of completeness” that Ross discussed the plan with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former White House strategist Steve Bannon, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leading proponent of crackdowns on alleged voter fraud.