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Opponents Of Citizenship Question Say SCOTUS Ruling Means Latinx In Texas Won't Be Undercounted

Claire Harbage
Newly sworn-in U.S. citizens stand during a naturalization ceremony in Alexandria, Va., in August. The Census Bureau is planning to test how a question about U.S. citizenship status the Trump administration added will affect responses to the 2020 census.

Local officials said they were encouraged by a Supreme Court decision today that essentially blocks a citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census.

In a complex decision, justices said the Commerce Department provided a "contrived" reason for the question – to better protect against Voting Rights Act violations – and kicked the case back down to a lower court.

Opponents of the question "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" contend its inclusion would lead to an undercount in the survey, as noncitizens may not answer for fear of deportation. Last year, opponents and even the U.S. Census Bureau admitted that an undercount would affect calculations for both federal resources and political representation.

Austin state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez said, despite the fact the court didn't technically shoot down the question, he said he feels confident the 2020 count will be accurate in Texas. He said an undercount could have put Texas at risk of losing one or two congressional seats.

"All in all, I think, a more accurate census is better for more accurate representation," Rodriguez said. "If the language would've been added about citizenship, we would stand to lose hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to the state, because of the undercount. So, I think, for financial reasons as well, this is a good day for Texas."

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the ruling "unburdened" surveyors from asking a "repressive" question.

"The City of Austin and Travis County can move forward with working to obtain as accurate of a count as possible, resulting in additional federal funding for our region, and accurate representation during the redistricting process," they said in a joint statement. "Citizenship information cannot be used for any other purpose and cannot be shared with any other agency or individual.”

If Texas were undercounted by even 1% in 2020, they said, the state could miss out on $300 million a year in federal money.

While the justices did leave the door open for the Census Bureau to rewrite the question, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to do so before an end-of-month deadline to draft the survey. After the ruling, President Donald Trump tweeted he was considering delaying that deadline.

Jose Garza, co-executive director of the Workers Defense Project, said the decision was "damning," but he emphasized the legal process isn't over and that he expects another legal battle.

"The court, in declining to accept [the government's] rationale, allows us to imply that our worst fear is true: that the Trump administration put this question in to discriminate against people based on their ethnicity and national origin," he said, "and, as part of a calculated effort to minimize the growing political power of the Latinx community."

In a separate case in Maryland, plaintiffs argue discrimination is a factor in the inclusion of the citizenship question and say the Commerce Department was influenced by a GOP consultant operating in Texas. 

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