Citizenship question is out of the census for now…but was the damage already done? Not if we can help it!

For now, the citizenship question is off 2020 census forms. That’s good news for those of us, like The Center for Community Solutions, who want to see a complete and accurate count every 10 years.  However, where we go from here is complicated.

The Supreme Court sent the issue of whether a citizenship question will be included on the 2020 decennial census back to the lower courts for further consideration. The ruling is complex, with groups of justices joining some parts of the opinion penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, but dissenting on others. Click here for a more detailed analysis.

No matter what, when you get a census form FILL IT OUT!

My main takeaway is this: a citizenship question can be added to the decennial census in the future, but the majority of justices are not certain that the administration did it the right way this time around. Beyond that, there are two main questions to consider: what’s the real printing deadline and has the damage already been done?

Is there time to change the forms?

The decennial census is a huge undertaking that begins to ramp up several years ahead of Census Day, which is April 1 of all years that end in zero. The Census Bureau was scheduled to start printing the forms today, July 1, 2019, and the first forms are supposed to be distributed in Alaska in January. We were told by representatives from the Census Bureau that they prepared two versions – one with and one without the citizenship question – so they could essentially hit “PRINT” as soon as the court ruled. But testimony during the trial suggested that July 1 wasn’t the real deadline, and that printing could commence in October and still be done in time.

Ohio needs every person to count in 2020 to protect both legislative influence and federal funding

Extensive field testing of a form which includes the citizenship question is already underway, and President Donald Trump tweeted, “I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the census, no matter how long….” So it seems that the fight to add a citizenship question on the 2020 census isn’t over.

Does it even matter at this point?

Several of the justices dissented on part of Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion. In one such dissent, the four liberal justices indicated that all the evidence, “indicated that asking the [citizenship] question would produce citizenship data this is less accurate, not more,” and the actions of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, “risked undermining public confidence in the integrity of our democratic system itself.” This lines up with the view of some who oppose the citizenship question on the grounds that it will suppress counts of some ethnic groups that are already considered by the Census Bureau to be “hard to count.” Some speculate that people have already decided that they are going to skip the census, and it doesn’t matter if the citizenship question is on there or not.

What to do next?

No matter what, when you get a census form FILL IT OUT! Ohio needs every person to count in 2020 to protect both legislative influence and federal funding. Representatives from the Census Bureau have repeatedly reminded us that they take a life oath and are strictly forbidden from sharing any information with other government agencies. They also told us that even incomplete census forms are counted.

Discussions about the citizenship question and the census are far from over, and Community Solutions will continue to share information about the importance of a complete and accurate count. We hope you can join us for a webinar on July 17 at noon where we will explore these issues in more detail.