Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Chief Justice wrote a 5-4 opinion that–at least temporarily–precludes the inclusion of a citizenship question on the critical decennial Census.
First, let’s talk about why this matters to our sector.
Up to 100,000 Ohioans are projected to be “undercounted” should a citizenship question be included on the Census, which counts residents regardless of their citizenship status. The number of residents identified through the Census is a key determinant of how many federal dollars flow to states, dollars that pay for critical human and social services programs.
Therefore, an undercount would block significant resources from our state and from our sector.
Second, let’s talk about what the Supreme Court did.
A majority of justices actually cleared the way for a citizenship question to be added to the Census. The problem was with why the Commerce Department included the citizenship question. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the Commerce Department’s explanation was “contrived,” and therefore, a citizenship may not be included–for now.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court has punted this issue back to the Commerce Department, which may now provide a new explanation for why the citizenship question should be added that isn’t contrived. That will invite new legal challenges, however, and could also incorporate new evidence in the form of documents that recently came to light which were not previously in the evidentiary record that could undermine the authenticity of any explanation the Commerce Department might offer.
Beyond the legal issues for the Commerce Department, practical considerations are important here, too, because time is of the essence. The Commerce Department had previously said its deadline for this issue to be resolved was July 1, 2019 so the Census forms could be printed and ready to distribute in 2020. (Many expect the Commerce Department to suggest it can wait until as late as October.)
Accordingly, the Commerce Department will race to proceed now that the Court did at least find that it is constitutional for a citizenship question to be included on the Census.
What’s this all mean? For now, there will not be a citizenship question on the U.S. Census, which would mean a more accurate count of Ohio residents, which would mean Ohio wouldn’t lose out on millions of dollars in federal funds. But that could change very quickly, depending on what the Commerce Department and the courts do next.