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Trump revives contentious census battle

Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was moving ahead with adding a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census in a dramatic reversal after his own administration, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, announced a day earlier that the plan had been dropped.

Following Trump’s announcement, made in a defiant Twitter post, a senior U.S. Justice Department lawyer told a Maryland-based federal judge overseeing litigation in the matter that the administration was seeking a “path forward” to add a citizenship question after the Supreme Court last Thursday blocked it, at least temporarily.

The Supreme Court found that administration officials had given a “contrived” rationale for including the query in the decennial population survey, but the court left open the possibility the administration could offer a plausible rationale.

Facing a deadline to get the census forms printed, administration officials including Ross said on Tuesday they were going ahead without including the question.

Critics have called the citizenship question a Republican ploy to scare immigrants into not taking part in the census and engineer a population undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant and Latino populations. That would benefit non-Hispanic whites and help Trump’s fellow Republicans gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures when new electoral district boundaries are drawn after the census, the critics said.

“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The census will continue to be printed without the citizenship question while the administration reevaluates all options to see if it could win a new lower court decision that would permit it to add the question, according to a person familiar with the administration’s thinking.

Trump’s hardline policies on immigration have been a key element of his presidency and 2020 reelection campaign. Trump last Thursday also said he was exploring whether the census, which the U.S. Constitution requires be carried out every 10 years, can be delayed.

“We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward consistent with the Supreme Court decision that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census,” Assistant Attorney General Joseph Hunt told Maryland-based U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel on Wednesday, according to a court transcript obtained by Reuters.

Hunt did not make clear who issued the instruction.

The Justice Department on Tuesday had told Hazel that the administration had made a final decision not to proceed with the citizenship question, according to two lawyers involved in the litigation. The judge then held a call with lawyers in the case after Trump’s Wednesday announcement.Speech

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