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Supreme Court takes up case over census citizenship question

Key Points
  • The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday announced it would hear arguments in a dispute over the Trump administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
  • Critics of the question have argued that it will result in an undercount of minority groups, particularly among those who live in households containing noncitizens and Hispanic people. The case the justices agreed to hear was brought by eighteen states, several cities and civil rights groups.
The U.S. Supreme Court building stands in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday announced it would hear arguments in a dispute over the Trump administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The court announced in an order that it would hear the case in April.

Critics of the question have argued that it will result in an undercount of minority groups, particularly among those who live in households containing noncitizens and Hispanic people.

That could have dramatic effects because the census is used to apportion congressional districts and federal funding. The addition of the question would represent a significant setback for Democrats.

A federal judge in New York blocked the addition of the question in a lengthy order last month. That case, which will now be reviewed by the nation's top court, was brought by eighteen states, several cities and civil rights groups.

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Furman wrote that he could not uphold an agency action "founded on a pretextual or sham justification that conceals the true 'basis' for the decision."

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the census, had originally argued that his decision was based on a recommendation from the Department of Justice, though he later admitted that he had solicited that recommendation.

The administration has continued to argue that the addition of the question is necessary in order to enforce certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The administration has said that the citizenship question originated in the 1820 census and has been on virtually every survey in the time through 2000.

Furman said that adding the citizenship question to the census would likely prevent millions of people from being counted.

"That undercount, in turn, will translate into a loss of political power and funds, among other harms," Furman wrote.

The justices, who in November rebuffed the Trump administration's efforts to halt the New York trial on the matter, did agree last year to hear arguments on a narrow technical issue related to the case.

But those arguments were cancelled following Furman's order blocking the addition of the question.

"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has decided to hear this case defending the government's legal and reasonable decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census," DOJ spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in a statement.

"The Department of Justice looks forward to argument before the Supreme Court."

New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement that "we look forward to seeking the Trump administration in court once again."

The court's decision to take up the case this term was largely expected, despite the hurried schedule, because of the need for a resolution on the issue before final preparations are made.

A decision is expected by late June.