Census Citizenship Question: As Trump Mulls Executive Order, DOJ Changes Legal Team

Despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against having a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli said he thinks the Trump administration will find a way to include it.
by | July 8, 2019 AT 8:16 AM
Ken Cuccinelli speaking at CPAC.
Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli (FlickrCC/Gage Skidmore)

By Theresa Braine

Despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against having a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli said he thinks the Trump administration will find a way to include it.

"I do think so," he told "Fox News Sunday" when asked by guest host Dana Perino, adding that Trump had "expressed determination" to ask respondents if they were U.S. citizens.

"He's noted that the Supreme Court didn't say this can't be asked," Cuccinelli said of the question. "They said that they didn't appreciate the process by which it came forward the first time."

Trump, he said, "is determined to fix that."

The Trump administration had attempted to include the question on the grounds that it would help uphold the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against including it, noting that the ruling left an opening for a different legal justification.

On Friday, Trump floated the notion of using an executive order to attach the question, but the American Civil Liberties Union immediately moved to block the idea.

"The question's inclusion intentionally discriminates against immigrants and thwarts the constitutional mandate to accurately count the U.S. population," The ACLU said in a statement about the effort to include a citizenship question on the census form.

On Sunday evening the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it was changing its legal team and indicated that it plans more court action.

"As will be reflected in filings tomorrow in the census-related cases, the Department of Justice is shifting these matters to a new team of Civil Division lawyers going forward," DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told a Huffington Post reporter. "Since these cases began, the lawyers representing the United States in these cases have given countless hours to defending the Commerce Department and have consistently demonstrated the highest professionalism, integrity, and skill inside and outside the courtroom. The Attorney General appreciates that service, thanks them for their work on these important matters, and is confident that the new team will carry on in the same exemplary fashion as the cases progress."

On "Face the Nation," also on Sunday morning, Cuccinelli did not address the question of discrimination against Latinos and immigrants. Speaking in the context of immigration, he merely said the data would not be used to target individuals.

Pointing out that the census is used "to gather an awful lot of information," he emphasized that it would be on an "aggregated basis," not individually.

"Will my agency or other agencies see a person who says, 'No, I'm not a citizen, and their name and address and so forth,' that's taken on an aggregated basis," he said. "That's not individualized data that comes to us."

Nonetheless, the specter of a citizen question on the census could deter participation by immigrants and Latinos, according to the government's own data.

This could reduce the count by up to 6.5 million, an undercount that could drastically affect allocation of basic government services, including congressional representation, to those communities. Opponents to the question said this was the goal -- to undercount immigrants by reducing the number of responses.

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