The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to block plans by the administration of President Donald Trump to ask people if they were U.S. citizens during the 2020 census earned academic and political praise from Kansans skeptical of that line of inquiry.
The Trump administration argued the question was a legitimate feature of a plan to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. A question about citizenship status hasn't been part of the census since the 1950s.
"The citizenship census question is just one of the ways the government is trying to extend the reach of its draconian and iniquitous approach to immigration and citizenship," said Lua Yuille, a University of Kansas professor of law and part of the KU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.
Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat and former Topeka state senator, said inserting a citizenship question into the census profile would have deterred participation rather than encourage a full accounting of people in the United States.
The nation's highest court agreed in an opinion issued Thursday to prevent the Trump administration, at least for now, from including a question of citizenship in next year's census. The Constitution requires a population every 10 years. It serves to determine the number of U.S. representatives from each state and directs appropriation of billions of dollars in federal funding.
A majority of the Supreme Court said the administration's justification for the question "appears to have been contrived" and reflected "more of a distraction" than an explanation. Supporters argued answers to the citizenship question would improve the headcount, while critics claimed the intent was to undercount minorities, primarily Hispanics, for political advantage.
"This ruling may stymie that effort, for now, but comprehensive legal changes are necessary to prevent future co-opting of the census," Yuille said.
Kelly said a statewide committee she formed would continue to raise awareness of the census to encourage all people in Kansas to be counted and to prevent the state from being shortchanged in the process. She said an undercount would damage the state's political influence in Washington, D.C., and cost communities, especially rural cities and towns, every year for a decade.
"I support today’s Supreme Court ruling," Kelly said. "At stake is federal funding distributed to communities for schools, roads, public safety, parks and other programs. The census also determines how many seats states have in the U.S. House, and Kansas deserves fair representation."
Kansas elects four people to the U.S. House, but Republicans and Democrats have expressed apprehension about eventually dropping to three representatives.
Cynthia Clark, executive director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, said the Census Bureau anticipated printing of questionnaires to start July 1. It is unclear whether the U.S. Department of Commerce would delay printing in an attempt to salvage the citizenship question.
“There simply isn’t time. Any delay in printing puts the entire operation at risk," Clark said. "The Supreme Court issued a reasonable decision. It is time to focus all our attention on getting the most accurate count possible."