President Trump’s quest to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census ended Tuesday, with the administration caving on the plans, bowing to a Supreme Court ruling and an intractable time crunch.
A Justice Department attorney, in an email that found its way onto Twitter, said the department had finalized the questionnaire and given the green light to print it without the citizenship question.
The decision is a symbolic blow to Mr. Trump, who staked significant political capital on his ability to get the question added and who had said it was “ridiculous” to conduct a census without asking about citizenship.
As late as Monday, the president told reporters he was considering ordering an unprecedented delay of the 2020 count to try to shoehorn the question into the form.
But by Tuesday, the realities of the calendar and his administration’s own legal positioning had set in.
“We can confirm that the decision has been made to print the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire without a citizenship question, and that the printer has been instructed to begin the printing process,” Kate Bailey, one of the Justice Department attorneys involved in the case, said in the email that found its way onto social media.
Adding the question was going to be a long shot after the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., erected a roadblock last week.
The court ruled that while a citizenship question can be legal — and indeed has been asked on the full census before — the Trump administration cut too many corners by adding it this time.
The chief justice said he doubted the explanations of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for the need to add the question. He called it “contrived” and ordered a do-over.
The only problem was that the administration told the court that it faced a June 30 deadline — Sunday — for finalizing the questionnaire and sending it to the printer.
Mr. Trump was faced with options of either arguing that the deadline wasn’t real or attempting to delay the census entirely, which would have invited a whole new round of legal battles.
Democrats, who accused Mr. Trump of trying to weaponize the census to suppress Hispanic and immigrant participation, cheered the president’s failure.
“A citizenship question would have pushed us backward for nothing more than crass political calculations,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat. “Today America won, and Donald Trump and his political minions lost.”
The citizenship question had become a microcosm of the broader debate over Mr. Trump’s approach to racial and immigration matters, and both sides turned up the rhetoric.
“Nobody can believe this, but they spend billions of dollars on the census, and you’re not allowed to ask?” an incredulous president told reporters Monday.
He added: “There’s a big difference, to me, between being a citizen of the United States and being an illegal.”
Opposing Mr. Trump was the full array of liberal forces, including Democrat-led states, immigrant rights groups, civil rights organizations and progressive campaigns.
“The Trump administration’s politically motivated efforts to undermine the Constitution in this instance were so reprehensible that even the conservative Supreme Court couldn’t let them get away with it,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
The Trump administration seemed to have bungled the citizenship question effort from the start.
Mr. Ross said he added it after a request from the Justice Department, which said more specific citizenship data would help police voting rights laws.
But evidence emerged that Mr. Ross had been inclined to add the question before the Justice Department request and had been in contact with Trump political allies who had other reasons for wanting the data.
Critics also said the question, asked by this administration, would reduce the response rate.
Three district court judges ruled that Mr. Ross ignored those findings and cut too many other corners in his zeal to get the question approved in time.
The Supreme Court sped the case onto its docket without waiting for circuit courts of appeals to rule. In a stunning decision last week, the severely divided court, in a 5-4 ruling, ordered Mr. Trump to take a do-over.
But the ruling was handed down June 27, three days before the deadline for the census forms to go to print.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the Supreme Court’s decision was a victory, but he added that he will continue an investigation into why it was added in the first place.
“The attorney general and the secretary of commerce must now turn over all of the documents our committee has subpoenaed on a bipartisan basis,” Mr. Cummings said.
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