Can Trump Force the 2020 Citizenship Question by Executive Order?
Reports suggest that Trump will take executive action to
include the citizenship question, despite the fact that the
administration has already begun printing the census forms
But it’s unclear if it is actually in Trump’s power to use
executive action to force the question’s inclusion.
First, the responsibility for carrying out the census falls on Congress—not Trump.
Article I of the Constitution says that the census “shall be
made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress
of the United States, and within every subsequent term of 10
years, in such manner as [the House and Senate] shall by law
Congress, in turn, handed the power of conducting the census
over to the commerce secretary in the Census Act. While the
commerce secretary is appointed by the president and part of
the executive, not legislative, branch, the laws and
regulations of the Census Bureau are still subject to judicial
That is precisely what happened two weeks ago when the Supreme
Court ruled against including the question, saying that the
administration hadn’t provided adequate justification for it.
The Court sent the matter back to the Commerce Department,
leaving the door open to its eventual inclusion if the
administration could come up with a new
Whether the administration chooses to take that route or executive order, the fact remains that the matter will likely need to be re-litigated. Even an executive order would in all likelihood yield another legal challenge—one which the administration may not have time to tackle with the printing deadline fast approaching.
A citizenship question is not unheard of as far as the U.S. census goes. From 1890 to 1950 the question was included on every census. In the years since, however, no citizenship question has appeared on the short form that most households receive. Citizenship data came instead from the long form questionnaire between 1970 and 2000. Today, the government derives this data from the American Community Survey, which is conducted every year, but is only sent to a small sample of the U.S. population.
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