WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Friday he was weighing an executive order to overcome a Supreme Court ruling blocking his administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 US census, which opponents say is politically motivated.
A week after the high court blocked the question and the administration announced it would accept the decision, the Justice Department also indicated Friday that it was seeking a new legal justification to add the citizenship question to the decennial national survey.
Trump appeared determined to find a way around the court's June 27 ruling, in which Chief Justice John Roberts said the administration had "contrived" a bogus reason to add the question, claiming it would help enforce minority rights.
Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the government however provided documents to the court showing that the proposal by Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross originally arose from Republican efforts to dilute voter support for Democrats in immigrant-heavy districts.
Trump himself appeared to confirm that Friday, saying the question is important "for districting," the process of outlining congressional districts.
Asked if he would resort to an executive order to override the Supreme Court's narrow 5-4 decision, Trump replied: "We're thinking about doing that. We have four or five ways we can do it."
Printing of census forms underway
On Tuesday, Ross accepted the high court ruling and announced that the US Census Bureau would immediately begin printing census questionnaires without a question on whether respondent households had any non-citizens in them.
But on Wednesday Trump stunned his own Commerce and Justice Departments, announcing via Twitter that he would continue fighting to add the question.
"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!" he said.
"We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question."
Hours later Justice Department lawyers told a lower court judge that they were blindsided by Trump's tweet.
On Friday, they indicated in a fresh court filing that they were looking for new legal rationales for adding the citizenship question that might be accepted by the Supreme Court.
They gave no date as to when that could happen.
But it was virtually certain that any new justification, or any Trump order on the issue, would be challenged immediately in lawsuits, forcing the case back to the high court.
That could risk delaying the crucial census, already on a tight timeline due to the delay from earlier litigation.
The Justice Department declined to answer questions on what rationale they could use to justify adding the question or whether an executive order - which could spark a constitutional crisis - is forthcoming.
Democrats said the rational remains clear - to weaken their electoral districts.
"This is a partisan attempt to rig the census and electoral districts for years to come," said Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney.