New York City Census Director Julie Menin, New York State Attorney General Letitia James, and Dale Ho, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, leave after the Supreme Court heard arguments over the Trump administration’s plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, in Washington, April 23, 2019. Opponents, like Menin, James and Ho, say adding the question would discourage many immigrants from being counted, leading to an inaccurate count.
Photo: Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court seems to be headed toward backing a Trump administration move to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, even if doing so risks undercounting Latinos and other groups with heavy immigrant populations.

Based on comments and questions raised by the conservative majority in listening to arguments Tuesday, it appeared that the five justices appointed by Republican presidents were prepared to give Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, great leeway.

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As the Los Angeles Times reports, new Justice and Donald Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh said history favors the Trump administration’s desires with regard to what questions the census will ask.

The law “gives huge discretion to the Secretary [of Commerce Ross] on what to put on the form,” said Kavanaugh, and suggested, as the Associated Press reports, that congressional lawmakers could change the law if they think a citizenship question will be so harmful.

In contrast, the four liberal justices, all appointed by Democratic presidents, were clear in expressing their view that the addition of a citizenship question would be a ploy by the Trump administration to undercount populations in cities and states that traditionally vote Democrat, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Opponents of adding a citizenship question to the census say that doing so will mean that fewer people will answer the survey, especially non-citizens, for fear of being caught up in the anti-immigration enforcement wave sweeping the nation.

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Census data is used to determine how many House members a state has to represent it, and also helps decide how federal funds are allocated.

Despite their passion, the four liberal justices would need at least one conservative to side with them to prevent the citizenship question from going forward.

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As it looks now, the Supreme Court’s decision, expected to be handed down sometime in June, is likely to be 5-4 in favor of the citizenship question.