Before departing for his 202nd day in office spent at one of his golf clubs, President Donald Trump openly admitted that the reason he wants to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census is to discriminate against non-citizens by not counting them when drawing Congressional districts. This would be a major change to how legislative representation has always been calculated and a departure from what the framers of the Constitution intended.
“Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for districting,” Trump told reporters on Friday. “You need it for appropriations — where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.”
But, this is not how the Trump Administration justified adding the question when the case came before the Supreme Court. Then, they argued that the reason was to protect minority voting rights, a reason that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in the court’s ruling “seemed to be contrived.”
Adding a citizenship question would discourage Hispanic and Latinx communities, who tend to vote Democratic, from participating in the census for fear the information would be used by ICE in deportations. By admitting that the citizenship question is to discriminate against non-citizens in congressional redistricting, Trump may have undermined his case for adding it, giving the courts a reason to reject it again.
Currently, legislative districts and congressional representation are based on total population, regardless of citizenship, which the Supreme Court affirmed in 2016. Republicans would like to change that and draw districts based on the number of voting-age citizens. Counting only voting-eligible citizens would be a boon to Republicans in elections. The problem is, they don’t have the data to make that determination. Adding a citizenship question to the census would give them that data.
But the battle is not over. A court case that argues the citizenship question—”Is this person a citizen of the United States?”—is intended to discriminate is moving forward. U.S. District Judge George Hazel said proceedings would continue after learning the administration still intended to add the question. Which means, of course, that the Supreme Court could once again rule on whether it will be allowed. And the president’s opponents will almost certainly argue that Trump’s recent remarks prove that the only reason he wants to include the question is to discriminate.