DENVER – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census – something Colorado had sued the administration over – saying that the administration’s explanation for adding the question was “more of a distraction” than an explanation.
Colorado leaders said the decision was a victory for the state but were cautious as the Supreme Court kicked the question back to lower courts.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberal justices in the 5-4 decision to block the question, which started with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision in 2018, in which he said he wanted to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. If the court would have allowed the question, it would have been the first time a citizenship question was asked on a census sine 1950.
"If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case," Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
Colorado was among more than a dozen states that sued over the addition of the question. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office signed onto a lawsuit last May seeking to block the question. At the time, the Democrat bypassed the attorney general’s office, which was held by Republican Cynthia Coffman, who agreed with the addition of the question.
That suit noted that nearly 21 percent of Colorado households didn’t mail back their 2010 questionnaire and had to be followed-up with and said that number could be similar or worse if there is a citizenship question added.
The suit said there were about 200,000 undocumented immigrants in Colorado as of 2014, and that more than 275,000 Colorado residents – half of whom were born in the U.S. – lived with one or more undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014.
It added that billions of dollars in federal money used for transportation, education and health care, among other things, would be at risk if Colorado’s population isn’t accurately counted.
After Democrat Phil Weiser won the attorney general’s race in 2018 and took office, he started to represent the state in U.S. Department of Commerce v. New York.
Following Thursday’s decision, Weiser called it a victory for the state and said it would help with the state continuing to receive its “fair share of federal dollars for transportation, health care, education, public safety and other public assistance programs.
“By recognizing that the government did not truthfully explain why it sought to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the rule of law must be followed,” Weiser said in a statement.
“It is now our responsibility to educate the public about the importance of an accurate count, and we must redouble our efforts to ensure that every person is counted in Colorado,” he added.
Gov. Jared Polis, House and Senate Democrats and immigrant organizations discussed the ramifications of the court’s decision at an 11 a.m. news conference at the state Capitol. They said that there was still work to be done to ensure that all Coloradans are counted and are not intimidated into skipping the census. They said that the census will be key in making sure Colorado gets the federal dollars it needs, along with an eighth congressional seat that is expected to come after the 2020 count.
But they also voiced concerns about broadband access in rural Colorado already restricting the ability to count every person in the state, as the 2020 census will be online. But the lawmakers and Polis praised the passage of a bill passed in this year's session and signed by the governor, HB19-1239, that added millions of dollars toward census outreach and education efforts over the next year.
In a statement, Polis called the decision a “step in the right direction.”
“The census is about making sure every Coloradan is counted, and not about political gain. Today’s Supreme Court decision is a step in the right direction to ensure that everyone is counted as accurately and as free from intimidation as possible,” Polis said. “In Colorado, we passed bipartisan legislation to promote the census, because we know an accurate count will ensure equitable funding that can go toward new roads, new schools, emergency services and economic opportunities.”
The Colorado Democratic Latinx Legislative Caucus was still cautious about a possible lower court decision coming before Census ballots are finalized next week.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision rightly determined that the administration hasn’t shown enough justification for adding the question, but the fight isn’t over - a lower court will still have to weigh in,” the caucus said in a statement.
Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, said work to ensure an accurate count in Colorado would continue nonetheless.
“Any decision that results in the removal of a citizenship question from the 2020 Census is a win. This type of question could result in thousands of Coloradans not being counted, impacting the billions of dollars in federal funding the state receives and possibly even our representation in Congress. We need to continue to work to make sure Colorado gets an accurate count,” he said in statement.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also showed caution in a statement but called Thursday's decision a "welcome sign."
“The Trump Administration’s continued effort to add a question about citizenship status to the Census is a blatant attempt to intimidate those from immigrant communities from participating," Bennet said in a statement. "Although today’s decision is a welcome sign, the Court should prevent further attempts by this administration to politicize what should be a non-partisan process. We must protect the Census from political interference and ensure that every individual is counted and every voice is heard.”
This is a developing news story and will be updated.