12:50 GMT21 February 2020
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    On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump tweeted that his administration would pursue the inclusion of a question on citizenship in the 2020 census – a matter that had been considered closed.

    A US Department of Justice (DoJ) official said Wednesday that the department is still looking for ways to include the long-debated citizenship question in the upcoming 2020 census questionnaire, despite a ban by the US Supreme Court, according to The Hill.

    "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,” said Joseph Hunt, an assistant attorney general with the DoJ’s civil division. “We think there may be a legally-available path under the Supreme Court's decision. We're examining that, looking at near-term options to see whether that's viable and possible.”

    Hunt suggested that the DoJ prepare a motion in the Supreme Court for comments and a detailed explanation on its ruling as a means of determining how the process could be pushed forward.

    “It’s very fluid at present because we are still examining the Supreme Court's decision to see if that option is still available to us,” Hunt suggested.

    The announcement came hours after a Trump tweet declaring that his administration had not given up its efforts to insert the hot-button question into the upcoming census, an executive decree that prompted significant confusion.

    "I have asked the Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice, to do whatever is necessary to bring this most vital of questions, and this very important case, to a successful conclusion," Trump tweeted Tuesday.

    His tweet was followed by another on Wednesday.

    “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! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question,” he tweeted.

    ​Earlier, the Supreme Court left in place a lower court order to block the question on the grounds that the Trump administration’s justification for its inclusion is “contrived”. On Tuesday, those in the US government responsible for the questionnaires confirmed that printing had begun and noted that the citizenship question had been left off. 

    That confirmation was later seconded by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, who said in a written statement that "the Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the [citizenship] question."

    Following Trump’s conflicting tweets, US District Judge George Hazel gave the US president’s administration until Friday to confirm in writing whether it will no longer pursue the question.

    “I don't know how many federal judges have Twitter accounts, but I happen to be one of them, and I follow the president, and so I saw a tweet that directly contradicted the position” the DoJ had given the day before, Hazel said, according to The Hill report. “I think I'm actually being really reasonable here and just saying I need a final answer by Friday at 2 p.m. or we're going forward.”

    July marks the deadline set by the Census Bureau, after which it begins printing the questionnaires for the 2020 census, while a New York Times report, citing a senior census official, says the bureau could possibly wait as long as October. The DoJ claims the question’s inclusion is necessary to evaluate the number of Americans eligible to vote in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which bars discrimination against racial or language minority groups in the conduct of elections, according to the Times.

    Critics of the DoJ note that the justification is far from the truth and that, in fact, the citizenship question can sway census results in favor of Republicans.

    After 2021, voting districts will be redrawn in accordance with the results of the new census. Three federal trial judges have ruled that Ross made a decision to include the question long ago and then pressed the DoJ to supply a rationale after the fact.

    The Supreme Court disallowed the DoJ rationale, but left the final decision open in the event that the Trump administration comes up with a more convincing reason.


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    citizenship, 2020 US census, US Department of Justice
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