The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether the Trump administration may add a question about citizenship to the next census questionnaire.
Critics say that adding the question would undermine the accuracy of the census, because both legal and unauthorized immigrants might refuse to fill out the form. By one government estimate, about 6.5 million people might decide not to participate.
That could reduce Democratic representation when congressional districts are drawn in 2021 and affect the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending.
The Supreme Court stepped in before any appeals court had ruled on the matter, and it put the case on an unusually fast track, scheduling arguments for April so that it can issue a decision before census forms are printed in June.
Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, has said that he ordered the question to be added in response to a December 2017 request from the Justice Department, which said that data about citizenship would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Last month, Judge Jesse M. Furman of the United States District Court in Manhattan issued a detailed decision after an eight-day trial. He concluded that Mr. Ross had dissembled, saying that “the evidence is clear that Secretary Ross’s rationale was pretextual.”
“While the court is unable to determine — based on the existing record, at least — what Secretary Ross’s real reasons for adding the citizenship question were, it does find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that promoting enforcement of the” Voting Rights Act, or V.R.A. “was not his real reason for the decision,” Judge Furman wrote. “Instead, the court finds that the V.R.A. was a post hoc rationale for a decision that the secretary had already made for other reasons.”
It’s not guaranteed that the Court will side with Trump here. But between the fact that the Court could have quietly let this die until it was too late to add the question by simply refusing to grant an expedited appeal to the very strong district court opinion, and the fact Roberts is a hardcore, true believing partisan opponent of voting rights…this certainly isn’t a good development.