EDITORIAL: Final count: Resolving census issues could reduce future suits

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will expand arguments it hears in April regarding the 2020 census, hoping to resolve all the issues about whether it can ask people about their citizenship status.

It’s the right call. Expanding the matter will reduce number of subsequent lawsuits, particularly after the census.

The court will consider challenges to the government’s plans to ask U.S. residents if they are citizens, after two lower court judges ruled the question violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act. The high court now will also decide if the question also violates the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

That clause mandates that all U.S. residents be counted every 10 years. That way representatives in Congress can be reapportioned so that every House district can have similar populations, assuring virtually equal representation for every American. The count also helps track population shifts, which affects the allocation of federal funds.

The Brennan Center for Justice notes that the Constitution requires that all residents be counted, “whether adult or child, citizen or non-citizen,“ but getting a complete count is a challenge since many people don’t return the questionnaires that are mailed to all U.S. households. Non-citizens particularly have low response rates, as many fear the government will use the responses to round up people for deportation.

Adding a specific question about citizenship will further fuel those fears, especially given the anti-immigrant atmosphere that has grown, within the administration and around the country as a whole, in recent years.

Areas with high immigrant populations, including the counties that comprise the Rio Grande Valley, have filed legal challenges to recent census figures because the undercount of immigrants affects the area’s representation and access to funding.

The general census has not asked about citizenship status since the mid-20th century, although some “long form“ questionnaires sent to selected residents occasionally have asked about nationality or place of birth.

The Trump administration last year announced that it would add the citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The Supreme Court is right to resolve the issue completely as soon as possible. The administration faces a June deadline to print the census forms. Federal officials have said the preliminary forms that will be used to train census workers nationwide already are being printed and include the citizenship question.

“Hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people will go uncounted in the census if the citizenship question is included,“ U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman stated in a January ruling throwing out the question.

We trust that the justices will agree, and rule that such an intrusive question goes against the constitutional goal of achieving a complete, accurate count.