A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday that found the Trump administration failed to give an adequate justification to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census was quickly praised by New York and New Jersey officials and advocates who have argued that the question would have deterred immigrants from participating.
But hours later, President Donald Trump said he would attempt to delay the census indefinitely so the Supreme Court can get needed information to make a final decision on the matter. Federal law states the census must begin April 1.
The changing news left advocates and officials vowing to work hard to get an accurate count in their respective communities despite the continued battle.
“We are cautiously encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision,” said Patricia D. Williamson, director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s New Jersey Counts Project, which is primarily focused on census outreach to Black communities. “The Commerce Department should respect this decision and proceed to prepare a 2020 Census that does not include the citizenship question."
The ruling by the justices prevents the citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census form as of now, but it gave the Commerce Department another chance to provide a "reasoned explanation" for why it wants to include the question.
It's not clear how the ruling will affect the printing of the forms that was to begin next week. The U.S. Census Bureau created two different surveys, one including the question and another without it as it awaited the high court's decision.
On Thursday, in a brief statement, the bureau said it was reviewing the ruling.
New Jersey Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, as well as Mazie Hirono, a Democratic Senator from Hawaii, renewed calls for Congress to pass legislation that would prohibit the Secretary of Commerce from including any question regarding one’s citizenship or immigration status on the U.S. census.
"In its decision, the nation’s highest court recognized the Trump Administration has lied to the American people about its true political motivations for including a citizenship question, calling the Administration’s justification for the question ‘contrived,' " they said in the statement.
Others called the ruling a win.
"The Supreme Court just confirmed what we've said all along: The Trump Administration misled all of America,'' New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal wrote on Twitter. "This is a big win, the fight to ensure that #EveryoneCounts continues."
New York's Attorney General Letitia James said every single person deserves to be counted and that she was pleased with the ruling.
"Thanks to the Court, the #2020Census will remain a tool for delivering on our government’s promise of fairness and equity,'' she said.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey said in a statement that it was encouraged by the ruling.
"We must continue to remind our leaders of the widespread support of a fair and accurate census that does not include an untested, unnecessary and harmful citizenship question," said Peter Chen, policy counsel for the advocacy group and coordinator of the Census 2020 NJ Coalition.
The court's opinion, delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, questioned the administration's rationale for including the question on the census.
"It is rare to review a record as extensive as the one before us when evaluating informal agency action—and it should be. But having done so for the sufficient reasons we have explained, we cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given," Roberts wrote.
The ruling was handed down a day after a coalition of advocacy groups requested that a federal judge in Maryland block the question from appearing on the 2020 survey while the courts determine if there was an intent to be discriminatory when the federal government decided to add the question to the census.
The Trump administration announced last year that it would add the citizenship question on the decennial form, saying it was necessary to accurately measure the voting-eligible population and enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
In a statement announcing that the question would be included in 2020, the Commerce Department said the citizenship question will be the same as the one that is asked on the yearly American Community Survey.
Those who oppose the addition of the question challenged the move in court, including a coalition of states that included New York and New Jersey. The lower courts have sided with the states, which propelled the federal government to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Opponents of the question say it will deter immigrants, both here legally and illegally, from taking part in the survey for fear of being deported under the Trump administration's more aggressive approach to cracking down on illegal immigration. Critics also contend that the administration wants a deliberate undercount in areas with high immigrant and Latino populations, which would then cost Democrats seats in the House, and therefore benefit the GOP.