WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump said on Friday that he was contemplating several ways to add a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 census, including an executive order, despite legal and logistical hurdles that could stop him.
The administration has been scrambling to revive the issue since the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision last week that the administration had used a contrived process to put the question on the survey. The court, while stopping the question for now, left a slim opening if the administration could find a legal basis for adding it.
But Trump has been sending mixed signals for days and U.S. District Judge George Hazel has asked Justice Department lawyers to state definitively what the administration is doing by 2 p.m. Eastern time Friday.
The Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, said Tuesday that it would begin printing forms without the citizenship question, retreating from the long legal battle. But Trump on Wednesday tweeted that news of his retreat was “incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!” and that the administration would instead continue the fight.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters Friday as he set out for a long weekend at his summer retreat in New Jersey. “We could also add an addition on. So we could start the printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision. So we’re working on a lot of things, including an executive order.”
It’s unclear whether the Commerce Department could actually add the question later and what that might cost. Government lawyers had told the courts previously that they had to begin printing the final surveys by the beginning of July.
The back and forth has exasperated Hazel and confused Trump’s own attorneys in the Justice Department, one of whom told the judge that he only learned about Trump’s order to revive the fight by reading Twitter.
The nature of Trump’s public deliberations could make it harder for his legal team to prove that adding the question is, as the courts require, the product of a well-considered process. Several conservative attorneys have suggested that an executive order laying out Trump’s reasons for adding the question could move through the courts faster than a bureaucratic process in the Commerce department.
The question carries broad ramifications for many states. Experts say its inclusion would probably discourage many people, particularly immigrants, from answering the census. Lower population counts in states with large immigrant communities could shift government funding and political representation to other states.