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Remarks by Attorney General William P. Barr on Census Citizenship Question


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Mr. President, and congratulations on today’s Executive Order, which will ensure that we finally have an accurate understanding of how many citizens and non-citizens live in our country.

As the Supreme Court recognized, it would be perfectly lawful for the federal government to ask on the census whether individuals are citizens of the United States.   It is entirely reasonable to want to know how many citizens and non-citizens there are in the United States.  In fact, the federal government has routinely asked questions related to citizenship dating back to the 1820s.  But while the Supreme Court correctly recognized that it would be entirely appropriate to include a citizenship question on the census, it nevertheless held that the Commerce Department did not adequately explain its decision to do so for the 2020 decennial census. 

Because as the Supreme Court recognized, the defect in Secretary Ross’s decision was curable with a better record, the President asked me to work with Secretary Ross to determine whether there remained any viable path for including a citizenship question on the 2020 census.  I did so.  In my view, the government has ample justification to inquire about citizenship status on the census and could plainly provide rationales for doing so that would satisfy the Supreme Court.  There is thus no question that a new decision to add the question would ultimately survive legal review. 

The problem is that any new decision would be subject to immediate challenge as a new claim in the three ongoing district court cases.  In addition, there are injunctions currently in place that forbid adding the question.  There is simply no way to litigate these issues and obtain relief from the current injunctions in time to implement any new decision without jeopardizing our ability to carry out the census itself, which we are not going to do.  So, as a practical matter, the Supreme Court’s decision closed all paths to adding the question to the 2020 decennial census.  Put simply, the impediment was logistical, not legal. We simply cannot complete the litigation in time to carry out the census, including appeals.

One other point on this.  Some in the media have been suggesting — in the hysterical mode of the day — that the Administration has been planning to add the citizenship question to the census by executive fiat without regard for contrary court orders or what the Supreme Court might say.  This has been based on rank speculation and nothing more.  As should be obvious, that was never under consideration.  We have always accepted that a new decision to add a citizenship question to the census would be subject to judicial review.

Turning to today, I applaud the President for recognizing in his Executive Order that including a citizenship question on the census is not the only way to obtain this vital information.  The course the President has chosen today will bring unprecedented resources to bear on determining how many citizens and non-citizens are in our country and will yield the best data the government has had on citizenship in many decades.  That information will be useful for countless purposes, as the President explained in his remarks today.  For example, there is a current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes.  Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this data may possibly prove relevant.  We will be studying the issue.

Congratulations again, Mr. President, on taking this effective action.

Updated July 11, 2019