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June 28, 2019

State House News Service: Galvin, Healey cheer halting of citizenship question

BOSTON – The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling halting the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census is being cheered by state officials and advocates who said such a question could jeopardize an accurate count in Massachusetts.

In a 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court on Thursday temporarily blocked the U.S. Department of Commerce from asking Census respondents about their citizenship status, finding “a significant mismatch between” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add the question “and the rationale he provided.”

The court sent the matter back to the Commerce Department, seeking a new explanation.

Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees the Census count in Massachusetts, and Attorney General Maura Healey, one of 18 attorneys general who sued the Commerce Department over the question, both urged the department to accept the court’s decision and prepare for a Census that does not ask about citizenship status.

“While the Court has held that the federal government cannot go forward with the printing of 2020 Census questionnaires that include a citizenship question unless they provide a valid and non-pretexual reason for doing so, I remain concerned that any attempt by the federal government to further delay the printing of census forms would jeopardize our ability to get a complete and accurate count,” Galvin said in a statement, describing himself as “pleased and gratified by this victory at the Supreme Court.”

Healey spoke at a press conference that advocates quickly scheduled Thursday afternoon outside the State House to respond to the ruling and lay out their plans for moving forward, alongside representatives from groups including Lawyers for Civil Rights, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the Chelsea Collaborative, the ACLU of Massachusetts and the property service workers union 32BJ SEIU.

She said the Commerce Department decided to “tinker with the 2020 Census to depress the count, which would have the effect of depressing the vote and of depressing people’s representation.”

“This is an administration that seems to know no bounds, that continues to debase and degrade the rule of law and basic principles of democracy,” Healey said. “Well, today democracy won.”

President Donald Trump, posting on Twitter, said it “seems totally ridiculous that our government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census, in this case for 2020.”

Trump wrote that he had asked lawyers involved in the matter “if they can delay the Census, no matter how long,” until the court receives the information it needs to make a final decision.

“Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen,” he wrote. “Only in America!”

Pam Wilmot of Common Cause Massachusetts interpreted the court’s ruling as “likely definitively” blocking the citizenship question, “given the short time remaining until the Census must be finalized.”

Beth Huang of the Massachusetts Voter Table encouraged advocates to remind people that their individual census results are confidential and cannot be shared with landlords, employers or law enforcement. Gladys Vega of the Chelsea Collaborative said she and others will work to make sure every person in Massachusetts is counted, including non-citizens.

“We will work extremely hard,” Vega said. “We will knock on every door.”

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley called the decision “a victory for justice” and said, “everyone should be counted, without fear or discrimination.” She added, “This administration’s ruthless campaign of terror on our immigrant neighbors met some long overdue resistance today and I’m proud to be a part of the movement to affirm the humanity and dignity of our immigrant communities.”