- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2019

President Trump’s Twitter account upended the 2020 census on Wednesday, with government lawyers scrambling to figure out how to reverse themselves and add a citizenship question into next year’s count — just a day after they’d told courts it wasn’t going to happen.

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt told a federal judge in Maryland.

“It’s very fluid at present,” the lawyer added.

Judge George Jarrod Hazel gave the department until Friday to make up its mind, saying either it would need to promise no citizenship question will appear on the 2020 census, or else it will need to explain what the next steps are as the administration tries a last-ditch effort to get it added back in.

Joshua Gardner, another government lawyer, had told Judge Hazel on Tuesday that the question was out.

He based that on the decisions of his own department and the Commerce Department, where Secretary Wilbur Ross waved the white flag and said the 2020 questionnaire was being printed sans the citizenship question.

Mr. Trump, apparently, wasn’t consulted.

“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,” the president tweeted Wednesday morning.

Mr. Gardner, who was on vacation but dialed in for a telephone appearance with Judge Hazel Wednesday afternoon, said he had no idea where things stood.

“The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president’s position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and your honor,” Mr. Gardner said. “Obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on.”

He even told the judge he’d consulted with the Census Bureau and officials there were already printing the questionnaire without the question, “and that process has not stopped.”

Judge Hazel lamented that he didn’t pin the government down more cleanly Tuesday, when Mr. Gardner had first said the citizenship question was off the menu.

The president’s executive decision, apparently overruling the rest of the government apparatus, stunned legal experts and sparked new promises of investigations from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“As long as President Trump continues to try to add a citizenship question to the census, we will continue our work to expose the Trump administration’s true, corrupt motivations — including holding the administration in contempt of Congress on the census,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Mr. Trump’s play is a legal long shot.

Three separate district courts, including Judge Hazel, have issued orders preventing the citizenship question from being asked in 2020.

Judge Hazel made clear his order is still in place.

To add the question back in, all of those judges must be satisfied that the question is legal, that the administration followed all the correct procedures, and that it can be done in time.

The Justice Department had tried to take a shortcut, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the blockades and approve the question.

But in a 5-4 decision last week, the justices ruled that the administration cut too many corners.

Asking about citizenship is legal, and indeed has been done many times in the past. However, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, the administration’s explanation for why it wanted to do so now was “contrived.”

The court remanded the case back down the chain, saying the Commerce Department could attempt a do-over. But the ruling came three days before the department’s deadline for finalizing the questions, which had to happen by Sunday in order for the forms to be printed in time to be sent out next year.

Opponents of the question argue it would scare people away and provide an inaccurate count.

The administration says it wants the information to better enforce voting-rights laws — though evidence has emerged that officials were also hearing from GOP strategists who said the question could help maximize Republican political power in the next round of redistricting.

Mr. Trump first signaled defiance of his administration’s decision Tuesday night on Twitter, where he called the justices’ decision “a very sad time for America.”

He said he’d asked the Justice and Commerce departments “to do whatever is necessary to bring this most vital of questions, and this very important case, to a successful conclusion. USA! USA! USA!”

But it wasn’t until the Wednesday tweet that declared he was “absolutely moving forward” that the legal complications began.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said the president’s tweet was an “attempt to sow chaos and confusion.”

“The Supreme Court of the United States has spoken, and Trump’s own Commerce Department has spoken. It’s time to move forward to ensure every person in the country is counted,” she said.

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