After months of legal battles, US President Donald Trump on Thursday dropped his bid to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
Instead, Trump said he was issuing an executive order, directing federal agencies to provide the Department of Commerce with all record requests pertaining to the number of citizens and noncitizens in the United States.
“I’m not backing down from the effort to determine citizenship status of the US population,” Trump said on Thursday, adding that court challenges over the inclusion of a citizenship question would have delayed the census.
“We will leave no stone unturned,” he said.
Trump’s plan to add the question to the census ran into a roadblock two weeks ago when the Supreme Court last month ruled against the plan. He had been expected until a few hours before his remarks to go ahead despite that ruling by using an executive order to include the question, prompting some analysts to say he risked a constitutional crisis by going ahead.
The government has also already begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without the question on citizenship.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said earlier on Thursday that Trump would do everything within his legal authority to determine and make public who is in the US with and without documents.
“It should come as no surprise … that the president wants to know who’s in this country legally and lawfully and who isn’t. And he’s going to do everything within his legal authority to make sure that that information is known, because the American people have a right to know,” he told reporters.
Trump and his administration’s efforts to add a question to the nation’s decennial population survey have become embroiled in a legal fight not only over plaintiffs’ opposition but also over the Department of Justice’s handling of the cases.
The intent of the citizenship question, opponents said, was to manufacture a deliberate undercount of areas with high immigrant and Latino populations, costing Democratic-leaning regions seats in the House of Representatives.
Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country.
Evidence surfaced in May that the challengers said showed that the administration’s plan to add a citizenship question was intended to discriminate against racial minorities. This week, a judge in Maryland ordered proceedings to continue in a case about those claims, which the Trump administration has called “conspiracy theory”.
In a separate case last month, the Supreme Court ruled against the Republican president’s first attempt to add the question, saying the administration’s rationale was “contrived” but leaving the door open to its possible addition if officials could offer a new explanation.
Since then, the Justice Department has sought to shake up its legal team by replacing the lawyers handling the case. On Wednesday, a second federal judge rejected the department’s efforts, saying it had to offer detailed reasoning for the change.
The US Constitution specifically assigns the job of overseeing the census to Congress, limiting a president’s authority, which could complicate any effort to add the question via presidential missive.
The administration’s focus on asking broadly about citizenship for the first time since 1950 reflects the enormous political stakes and potential costs in the once-a-decade population count that determines the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives for the next 10 years and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds.