The 2020 census may or may not add a citizenship question to the usual survey taken in 2010.
Photo: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
For months and months throughout all sorts of litigation, the Trump administration has firmly maintained that the final text of the 2020 census forms had to be prepared no later than June 30. NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang, in fact, quickly came up with six different times the government’s chief lawyer, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, stressed this deadline in filings with the Supreme Court.
Now the administration is rethinking that assertion since SCOTUS ruled the line Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross fed Congress and others about a Voting Rights Act enforcement rationale for the citizenship question Team Trump wants to ask is obviously phony baloney. The majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts left it up to the administration and the New York district court that originally held up the citizenship question as to whether, how and when to fix the problem. So POTUS is thinking about it while strolling around the Korean DMZ and doing the other things he enjoys doing:
Without question a delay in the timetable for carrying out the complex tasks associated with the census would be expensive and cumbersome. Beyond that, it’s unclear how long delays could remain compatible with the explicit constitutional mandate to complete the census by the end of 2020, as NBC News explained:
Terri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant and leading census authority, said Trump’s call for a delay threatens the count being carried out on time in 2020, as constitutionally mandated.
“We are in uncharted territory,” she said. “I believe if the Census Bureau cannot proceed with printing the forms as scheduled, there is a risk we will not have census next year.”
The execution of the process to take count of America is far more complex than simply mailing out forms and counting the responses, experts said. Simply, the logistics of printing and the U.S. Postal Service’s timeline for delivery have been in the planning since the last census was taken a decade ago.
An overwhelming majority of census forms are scheduled to go out March 12, in order for the count to be finished by Dec. 31, 2020.
“This is the nation’s most complex peacetime operation. It is carried out on an unforgiving and unamenable schedule,” Lowenthal said.
“There are so many moving parts here, it cannot be redone on a dime.”
Presumably we will learn soon whether Trump is talking about some sort of Manhattan Project crash effort to finish the census after going through the process of convincing the federal courts it has a valid reason for the citizenship question, or plans to go into open defiance of the Constitution. It’s possible the administration will try to hold the census hostage to the satisfaction of it nativist fetish, along with the partisan advantage Republicans would gain from intimidating millions of immigrants into refusing to respond to census surveys, costing states with large immigrant populations seats in Congress and untold billions in federal funds.
In either event, if it wants to get around the courts the administration will need to come up with a better rationale than the laughable idea that it cares about voting rights enforcement. It could, of course, throw in the towel and conduct the census the same way all of its recent predecessors have done. But that wouldn’t keep America great, would it?