The United States Justice Department has said it will press its search for legal grounds to force the inclusion of a contentious citizenship question on the 2020 census.
The announcement came on Friday hours after President Donald Trump said he is “very seriously” considering an executive order to get the question on the form, despite a Supreme Court ruling blocking his administration from adding it.
“We’re working on a lot of things, including an executive order,” Trump told reporters on Friday outside the White House as he left for his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The Justice Department did not say exactly what options remain now. Last week, the Supreme Court temporarily barred the question and Trump administration said it would accept the decision on the decennial national survey.
Trump, however, appeared determined to find a way around the court’s June 27 ruling, in which Chief Justice John Roberts said the administration had “contrived” a bogus reason to add the question, claiming it would help enforce minority rights.
However, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the government provided documents to the court showing that the proposal by Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross originally arose from Republican efforts to dilute voter support for Democrats in immigrant-heavy districts.
Trump himself appeared to confirm that on Friday, saying the question is important “for districting” – the process of outlining congressional districts.
Asked if he would resort to an executive order to override the Supreme Court’s narrow 5-4 decision, Trump replied: “We’re thinking about doing that. We have four or five ways we can do it.”
The legal fight seemed to be over earlier this week when the government said it would start printing census forms without the contentious query on whether respondent households had any non-citizens in them.
But on Wednesday, Trump stunned his own Commerce and Justice Departments, announcing via Twitter that he would continue fighting to add the question.
“The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!” he posted.
“We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”
Hours later, the Justice Department lawyers told a lower court judge that they were blindsided by Trump’s tweet.
On Friday, the lawyers indicated in a fresh court filing that they were looking for new legal rationales for adding the citizenship question that might be accepted by the Supreme Court.
They gave no date as to when that could happen.
But it was certain that any new justification or any Trump order on the issue would be challenged immediately in lawsuits, forcing the case back to the court.
That could risk delaying the crucial census, already on a tight timeline due to the delay from earlier litigation.
The Justice Department declined to answer questions on what rationale they could use to justify adding the question or whether an executive order – which could lead to a constitutional crisis – is forthcoming.
Democrats said the rationale remains clear: to weaken their electoral districts.
“This is a partisan attempt to rig the census and electoral districts for years to come,” said Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney.