In a major reversal following a presidential tweet, Justice Department lawyers told a federal judge in Maryland on Wednesday that they have been told to try to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census in a way that’s consistent with a Supreme Court ruling.
The change comes after President Donald Trump tweeted earlier on Wednesday that “we are absolutely moving forward, as we must” on the citizenship question, despite statements Tuesday from both his Department of Justice and his secretary of commerce that the administration was printing the census without the question.
“We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census,” Jody Hunt, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, told the judge Wednesday afternoon.
Government attorneys painted a picture of disarray within the administration, even as the Census Bureau moves ahead with printing the survey without the controversial question asking, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
The Supreme Court blocked, for now, the question from being on the census in a decision last week, which hinged on Chief Justice John Roberts concluding there was sufficient reason for concern about why the administration wanted to ask the question. Roberts had not ruled out that the Department of Commerce could come back with a new rationale.
Hunt told Judge George Hazel in a teleconference that if the administration finds a viable path to include the question on the decennial survey, it plans to return to the Supreme Court for “instructions … to simplify and expedite the remaining litigation and provide clarity to the process going forward.”
The judge requested more information from the Justice Department by 2 p.m Friday.
In a separate case in New York on Wednesday, the Justice Department attorney told a federal judge that while the department had told counsel on Tuesday that the questionnaire would not include a question about respondents’ citizenship status, it has shifted its position.
“The Departments of Justice and Commerce have now been asked to reevaluate all available options following the Supreme Court’s decision and whether the Supreme Court’s decision would allow for a new decision to include the citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census,” Hunt said.
Hazel told attorneys that he has a Twitter account and follows Trump. He said the tweet Wednesday morning “directly contradicted the position” the Justice Department articulated on Tuesday.
SOURCE: Ariane de Vogue, Gregory Wallace and Jeremy Diamond, CNN