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SPLC responds to Trump’s census press conference and executive action

Eddie Burkhalter

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On Thursday, the Southern Poverty Law Center welcomed President Donald Trump’s decision earlier that day to end his administration’s fight to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. 

Trump did so at a press conference Thursday afternoon at the White House rose garden, putting an end to a 19-month battle that followed several legal defeats. Those opposed to adding the question say that doing so would scare Latinos and illegal immigrants from responded, thus leading to serious undercounts affecting the drawing of congressional district lines and federal funding. 

“Today’s press conference by the president said aloud what the ultimate purpose of a citizenship question always was: to decrease the political power of immigrant communities and communities of color,” said Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a press release on Thursday. 

The U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled that without a solid reason the administration could not add the citizenship question to the census. House Democrats on Tuesday will vote to hold Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr in contempt for not complying with subpoenas that seek information on the administration’s decision to add the question, according to The Washington Post. 

“When experts in the administration acknowledged that including a citizenship question will undermine the accuracy of the census, the president, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and lawyers for the administration fabricated ever-shifting reasons on the question’s necessity,” Abudu said.  “Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that his administration had no legal or legitimate basis to include the question on the form, and it’s welcome that the administration has caved and backed away from this.”

Trump on Thursday also announced plans to sign an executive order to collect information on the number of non-citizens from every U.S. department and agency. 

“This information is also relevant to administering our elections,” Trump went on to say, adding that such data might be used by state lawmakers to help draw voting districts. 

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Trump on Thursday called the legal fights “meritless litigation” and “part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of an American citizen, and it’s very unfair to our country.” 

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U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel ruled last month that the citizenship question merits more consideration after newly discovered evidence on the hard drive of a deceased republican redistricting strategist showed that he had communicated with the Trump administration about how to get the question. The evidence also showed that the strategist believed that doing so would benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic whites. 

Ross had at first said the addition of the question was at the request of the Department of Justice to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. Subsequent court battles made clear that was not the reason and that it was in fact the Commerce Department that had asked the Justice Department to request the question be added. 

Chief Justice John Roberts then joined the Supreme Court’s four liberal judges to block the question because Roberts said Ross’s reasoning for adding the question was “contrived.”  

The printing of the 2020 census without the citizenship question had already begun before Trump took to the podium Thursday in the rose garden.

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