The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over whether a question about citizenship should be added to the 2020 census.
The justices will weigh cases from the Commerce Department, which administers the census, and opponents that include a coalition of Democratic-led states as well as House Democrats and immigrant rights groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross first proposed including the question on March 26, 2018, stating it would help enforce provisions of the Voting Rights Act that protect racial and language minorities. and the Commerce Department is expected to argue it has the authority to collect citizenship data for that purpose.
Opponents of the question are expected to argue that the question is unconstitutional and will deter undocumented immigrants from participating in the survey, leading to an undercount of as many as 6.5 million people that would cause special harm to urban areas and states with large immigration populations.
Three federal judges from Maryland, New York and California have ruled that including the question is unconstitutional.
In January, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said Ross exceeded his authority by adding the question, then in March, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg ruled the question prevented the government from carrying out its mandate to count every living person in the United States on a decennial basis.
Most recently, U.S. District Judge George Hazel said Ross and the Commerce Department “manufactured” a reason for asking the question and hid the real purpose for seeking the information.
“The notion that this is going to help enforce the Voting Rights Act is just ludicrous,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project told The Hill.
The census previously included a question about citizenship between 1820 and 1950, but since then has only been asked of a small subset of the population.
A decision must be made by June to allow the Census Bureau to know whether the question may be included on the 2020 form.
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