Advocates say high court ruling on census citizenship question ‘helps us move forward’

The court says the Trump administration's explanation for wanting to add the question was "more of a distraction" than an explanation.

The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Monday, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Monday, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Updated: 5:50 p.m.

The Supreme Court is forbidding President Donald Trump’s administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census for now. The court says the Trump administration’s explanation for wanting to add the question was “more of a distraction” than an explanation.

“There have been extraordinary fears about speaking to census officials about reporting information and filling the citizenship question, so today’s decision helps us move forward,” said Sarah Cullinane, director of Make the Road New Jersey, an immigrant rights organization that has protested the administration’s proposal.

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The high court ruled 5-4 on Thursday, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberals in the relevant part of the outcome.

In the majority opinion, Roberts wrote the sole reason for including the question in the census, which was to enforce the Voting Rights Act, appeared “contrived.”

A lower court found the administration violated federal law in the way it tried to add a question broadly asking about citizenship for the first time since 1950.

The decision is a win for lawmakers and activists across Pennsylvania and New Jersey who worried their populations would be undercounted, affecting the federal funds communities receive for schools, infrastructure, and public works. And the repercussions go beyond the financial — the count also affects congressional representation.

Opponents’ suspicions were supported by the Census Bureau’s own experts who have predicted that millions of Hispanics and immigrants would go uncounted if the census asked everyone if he or she is an American citizen.

“An undercount of our people would be catastrophic and our ability to continue to deliver the services and maintain the infrastructure that we have,“ said Stephanie Reid, Executive Director of Philly Counts 2020, who welcomed the decision.

Still, opponents of the question say the fight is far from over on two fronts.

It’s unclear whether the administration would have time to provide a fuller account for why it wants to include the question. Census forms are supposed to be printed beginning next week.

Trump said in a tweet that he was exploring whether his administration could delay the census indefinitely.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement that his administration would “continue to pursue all avenues to oppose a citizenship question and will always stand up for the right of all New Jersey residents to be fairly and accurately counted.”

Even without the question, many say the saga has eroded trust in immigrant communities.

Jo Lin, Coalition Manager of Keystone Counts said “there will still be fear around the census, particularly in communities of color and immigrant communities.”

Cullinane said the question, combined with a ramp-up of arrests and deportations, has made immigrant communities “concerned about giving information to the government.”

Advocates and officials are still encouraging everyone to fill out the census.

“Our team will continue to work every day in the lead up to the 2020 Census to ensure that every Philadelphia resident is counted — regardless of their citizenship status, or any other part of their identity,” said Mayor Jim Kenney and Reid in a joint statement.

Kenney created the Philly Counts 2020 office in January to make sure residents in hard-to-reach areas are accounted for and to fight any misinformation regarding the citizenship question.

Cullinane’s group, which has already held a dozen forums across New Jersey, plans to hold forums over the next several weeks to address any confusion members of the community might have.

Cullinane said the forums will also celebrate the high court’s decision, which she said proves what activists have been arguing all along.

“The Trump administration, the Commerce Department have been pushing a right-wing agenda to really include the citizenship question as a chilling effect so that immigrant communities, LatinX communities will be undercounted,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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