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Justices to Decide Whether '20 Census Can Ask About Citizenship


FILE - Shanda Burrell of Charlotte, N.C., holds a sign during a rally by U.S. census advocates at the Mas Jid Ash-Shaheed mosque in Charlotte, aimed at persuading people to fill out the 2010 census form.

The Supreme Court said Friday that it would rule on a contested census question that requires respondents to state their citizenship status.

The court said it would rule quickly following a lower-court ruling decision that has so far blocked the Trump administration from adding the question to the 2020 census.

Both proponents and opponents of the citizenship question want a speedy settlement to the issue because U.S. Census Bureau officials will soon need to begin printing the census forms.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments about the census question even before a lower appeals court has considered the matter, an unusual step for the high court.

The justices said oral arguments in the case would take place in late April, with a ruling expected by the end of June.

The Trump administration announced last March that it would include a citizenship question on the next census form. It argued that the Justice Department had requested the information to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Opponents have accused the Trump administration of trying to engineer a lower count of the population in Democratic areas of the country, benefiting Republicans in the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives.

District court action

In January, a Manhattan-based district court blocked the administration from adding the census question, saying that the Census Bureau's own evidence indicated that the question would lead to lower response rates. The district court also said the process used by Commerce Department officials to add the question was faulty. The Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years. A question about citizenship had previously been common, but it has not been asked since 1950.

The official population count produced by the census is used to allocate seats in the House of Representatives as well as to allocate billions of dollars in federal funds. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections.