That didn’t last long. Just one day after the Trump administration said the 2020 census forms would be published without a question asking whether people are U.S. citizens, Donald Trump railed (on Twitter, of course) that such reports were “FAKE!” and that his team was “moving forward” on having the question included:
Trump’s fervor notwithstanding, what exactly his tweet meant with regard to what will ultimately appear on the census was unclear. But, according to USA Today, in a conference call Wednesday with one of the federal judges that has been weighing in on the issue, a Justice Department lawyer said:
“[I]t is still assessing” whether the government can include a citizenship question, even though the high court ruled against it last week.
“We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision, that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census,” said Assistant Attorney General Joseph Hunt in a telephone conference call with U.S. District Judge George Hazel.
Hazel, who sits in Maryland, has been presiding over one of the cases lodged against the citizenship question, and was one of the lower federal court judges who had come out against the question prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s involvement and ruling to block it.
But it was apparent Trump’s pronouncement was a source of confusion even among Team Trump, as a transcript of the discussion between DOJ lawyers and the judge displayed, according to the Washington Post:
The transcript of the call shows that Joshua Gardner, who had led the government defense team in the cases before Hazel, said as far as he knew the question was removed and the form was being printed absent it and that the president’s tweet was the first he had heard of anything different.
But then Gardner turned the call over to Hunt who said the plan was to try to move ahead.
And, reports the Post, calls to the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, for comment went unanswered Wednesday.
All of the “confusion” had lawyers for those fighting to keep the citizenship question off the census smelling a rat. Per USA Today:
Attorneys for challengers who sued over the citizenship question accused Trump of seeking to disobey the Supreme Court ruling and sow doubts about the sanctity of the census within the immigrant community.
Critics of the citizenship question say it will discourage immigrants from responding to the census, potentially favoring Republicans by setting up an undercount in areas that tend to vote Democratic.
The Trump administration argued the addition of the question would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court, in its decision to block the question, expressed doubts about the veracity of the claim.