SCOTUS delays Census citizenship question, Kildee says Trump admin. should quit ‘politicizing’ count

Dan Kildee (left) and Donald Trump (right) | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday issued another highly anticipated ruling of this term, delaying the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. 

In a complicated decision regarding the President Trump administration’s plans to ask about citizenship status on the Census form, the High Court agreed with a lower court to send the issue back to the U.S. Commerce Department, citing problems with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ rationale for adding the question. 

The delay marks at least a partial victory for critics of adding the question, who argued that it would deter people — particularly immigrants — from responding to the Census, which could drastically skew the count. Census numbers are used to determine everything from how congressional districts are divvied up to where the government spends cash for programs like Head Start and Medicare.

High stakes for Michigan as SCOTUS grapples with census question

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) said the census “plays a critical role in ensuring that every community receives proper representation in government. When families are excluded or intimidated from participating in the census, it undermines our democracy and hurts our economy.” 

He also took a swipe at the Trump administration for playing politics. 

“The Supreme Court found that the Trump Administration failed to adequately explain why new politically-motivated questions are necessary in the census,” said Kildee, who represents the 5th Congressional District including Flint, Bay City and Saginaw. “Failing to conduct an accurate census would have far-reaching negative implications for our country. The Trump Administration should stop trying to politicize the census to benefit one political party over another.”

The president was in a combative mood following the decision and tweeted, “Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!”

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. 

“It is hardly improper for an agency head to come into office with policy preferences and ideas, discuss them with affected parties, sound out other agencies for support, and work with staff attorneys to substantiate the legal basis for a preferred policy,” he wrote.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appears before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on March 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. Ross testified about ongoing preparations for the 2020 Census, and with it, the addition of a citizenship question. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

But, Roberts added, “Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the Secretary’s explanation for his decision. … The explanation provided here was more of a distraction.” 

Ross has said that the plan to revive a citizenship question on the 2020 census was an attempt to bolster the Voting Rights Act.

But the Supreme Court majority wrote, “Several points, taken together, reveal a significant mismatch between the Secretary’s decision and the rationale he provided. The record shows that he began taking steps to reinstate the question a week into his tenure, but gives no hint that he was considering VRA enforcement.” 

According to Election Data Services, Michigan is one of 12 states that could lose a congressional seat if a Census undercount occurs. 

Regardless of the citizenship question, Michigan is widely expected to shed another seat due to stagnating population after the next Census. That would follow a decades-long pattern and bring the number down to 13 districts. 

However, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) noted that the Census also determines federal funding. 

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters | Michael Gerstein photo

For every 1 percent of the population uncounted in the last census, the state of Michigan lost an estimated $94 million of federal funding, or $954 per person, according to a report by the George Washington Institute for Public Policy.

Peters called the decision “a step in the right direction to help keep the 2020 Census on track and ensure that every Michigander gets counted.” 

He added that as ranking member of the U.S. Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he “will keep pushing the Commerce Department and the U.S. Census Bureau to move forward with conducting an accurate and cost-effective count in 2020.”

Agustin Arbulu, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights called the ruling “at least a short-term win” against the citizenship question, but noted the court found that the Department of Commerce “has a right to reinstate the question if it can provide adequate justification.

Arbulu said it’s critical for all Michigan residents to be counted, “especially hard-to-count individuals, estimated to be 16% of Michigan’s population.

“Even with this ruling, we will still need to educate hard-to-count communities on the importance of being counted,” he said.

Whitmer establishes census committee to ensure accurate count

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has established a 63-member Census committee to ensure that Michigan has an accurate count. The panel is housed within the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) and she serves as chair. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Affirmations in Ferndale, June 3, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Joining her are Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, state Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), state Rep. Julie Calley (R-Portland) and Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit).

“Today’s ruling on the 2020 Census is good news for Michigan. Adding a question about citizenship status to the 2020 Census would impede our state’s ability to conduct an accurate and complete count of the people in our state, as required by the U.S. Constitution,” Whitmer said in a statement.

“As governor, I am committed to ensuring that Michigan’s bipartisan Complete Count Committee works diligently to encourage everyone in our state to participate in the 2020 Census. Let’s get to work.”

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.
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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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