AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In a setback for President Trump, the Supreme Court has kept the citizenship question off the 2020 census for now. Trump responded to today's decision in a couple of tweets. He says he's asked lawyers if they can delay the census so his administration can try again to make the case for adding the question.
NPR's Hansi Lo Wang joins us now to explain this ruling and how it will affect the national head count. Hansi, first just tell us about the decision itself. What did the court have to say?
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Well, majority of the Supreme Court justices says that the rationale the Trump administration said for wanting to add this question - to better enforce part of the Voting Rights Act - that rationale - they called it - said it seemed to be contrived. And he said that there's a disconnect between the decision to add this question, a question that Census Bureau research suggests is highly likely to discourage households from participating - noncitizen households from participating in the headcount and produce less accurate citizenship data than existing government records - there's a disconnect between adding that question and wanting to have more detailed citizenship data.
CORNISH: The president doesn't just want to try again with the court, right? He wants to delay the census. Is that even possible? I mean, can the census be delayed?
WANG: The census is constitutionally mandated, and federal law says that it has to happen every 10 years. A count has to been taken around April 1 every 10 years, and there's a set schedule for the Census Bureau to provide a population count - a new population count. Eventually, that goes to the redistribution of congressional seats the year after a census is taken. So that would disrupt the formation of new government.
There's another deadline that President Trump may be referring to, which is - there's this printing deadline. The Census Bureau has said that the forms for the 2020 census - the start - starting - excuse me - starting to print that - those forms has to start by Monday, July 1, the Census Bureau has said. But Census Bureau officials have also said that with exceptional effort and additional resources, that deadline could be pushed back to October 31.
CORNISH: Opponents of this question have been fighting it for more than a year. How did they react to the ruling?
WANG: Well, a lot of these challengers of the citizenship question - more than two dozen states, cities and other groups - around the country are really calling this a major victory. They think that ultimately speaking - that practically, it would be very hard for the Trump administration to try to get the courts to ultimately allow them to add this question at this point, given these very tight deadlines.
New York state Attorney General Letitia James spoke before President Trump tweeted. She spoke in New York City, and she said that if President Trump's administration tries to come up with another reason for this question, quote, "we will see them in court again." Let's listen to what else she had to say.
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LETITIA JAMES: We need some finality and some closure to this because we need to engage in the census. It's required by the Constitution, and the Constitution is clear - everyone should be counted.
CORNISH: I want to back up for a second. Why are the stakes so high, and why has this question become so controversial?
WANG: It's because when we're talking about the census, we are talking about power, and we are talking about money. We're talking about how Congressional seats and electoral college votes are redistributed amongst the states every 10 years, based on population counts. And we're talking about how close to $900 billion a year in federal tax dollars are distributed for schools, for roads, for Medicare, for Medicaid, for other public services in local communities. That money is guided. How that money is - how there's a fair share of that is guided by census numbers.
And the concern here is that this citizenship question, Census Bureau research has shown, is highly likely to discourage some households from participating in the census. It also would be something that three federal judges have blocked because they believe that this is a sham justification - this question - by using it - what the Trump administration says is for better enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. And it is a major concern that will risk the accuracy of next year's head count.
CORNISH: Is this over now?
WANG: No, I am watching additional legal battles. There is one happening in Maryland. We're watching to see if a federal judge there may issue an emergency order to essentially stop the Trump Administration from printing forms on Monday, and we'll see where that goes.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. Hansi, thanks so much.
WANG: You're welcome.
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