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U.S. Justice Department: Fight over 2020 census not over

TARA BAHRAMPOUR and JOHN WAGNER | 7/14/2019, 10:27 a.m.
The Justice Department affirmed Friday that it still is pursuing a path for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 ...
A protester holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court where the court ruled that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration did not give an adequate explanation for its plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, delivering a victory to New York state and others challenging the proposal in Washington, D.C., June 27. Carlos Barria of REUTERS

The Washington Post

(The Texas Tribune) – The Justice Department affirmed Friday that it still is pursuing a path for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, according to a filing in federal court in Maryland.

The filing followed statements earlier in the day from President Trump in which he said he is “thinking of” issuing an executive order to add the controversial question.

Government lawyers said in their filing Friday that the Justice and Commerce departments had been “instructed to examine whether there is a path forward” for the question and that if one was found they would file a motion in the U.S. Supreme Court to try to get the question on the survey to be sent to every U.S. household.

Attorneys for the government and challengers to the addition of the question faced a 2 p.m. deadline set by U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel to lay out their plans.

Hazel said earlier this week that if the government stuck with a plan to try to add the question, he would move ahead on a case before him probing whether the government has discriminatory intent in wanting to ask about citizenship.

The Justice Department lawyers argued in Friday’s filing that there was no need to start producing information in that case since for now courts have barred the government from adding the question. But the government also agreed to follow a schedule to move ahead if that was laid out.

The government has begun printing the census forms without the question, and that process will continue, administration officials said.

Trump had raised the possibility that some kind of addendum could be printed separately after further litigation of the issue, a move would almost certainly carry additional costs and may not be feasible, according to census experts.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “We could start the printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision. So we’re working on a lot of things, including an executive order.”

Census experts say that, among other concerns, such an addendum would likely violate the bureau’s strict rules on testing a question, which include considering how the placement of a question on the form affects respondents’ likelihood of filling it out.

Trump’s comments came as government lawyers scramble to find a legal path to carry out the president’s wishes despite their conclusions in recent days that no such avenue exists.

Census officials and lawyers at the Justice and Commerce departments scrapped holiday plans and spent Independence Day seeking new legal rationales for a citizenship question that critics say could lead to a steep undercount of immigrants, which could limit federal funding to some communities and skew congressional redistricting to favor Republicans.

“It’s kind of shocking that they still don’t know what they’re doing,” Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said. MALDEF is representing some of the plaintiffs in the case in Maryland. “We’re in this posture because they don’t know what the real plan is.”