Attorney General William Barr said on Monday that he believes the White House can legally add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census, although the Supreme Court ruled against the inclusion of such a question last month.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Barr said he has been in regular contact with President Donald Trump about efforts to include the controversial question, which the president is determined to see added to the decennial survey.
"I agree with him that the Supreme Court decision was wrong," the attorney general told the news outlet, adding that he thinks there is "an opportunity potentially to cure the lack of clarity that was the problem and we might as well take a shot at doing that."
Barr declined to provide further details to the newspaper about how the question will be added to the Census, but the AP cited a senior official who said Trump is expected to issue an executive order directing the Commerce Department to include the citizenship question on Census forms in the coming days.
The Supreme Court blocked the question from appearing on the census in a 5-4 ruling last month.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined with his liberal peers in delivering the high court's opinion. He said the government has the right to ask a citizenship question, but it needs to provide an appropriate explanation for adding such a question. The Supreme Court said the administration could offer another plausible rationale for adding the question.
Three federal judges ruled earlier this year against the question, arguing that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross official explanation for the move — that it was needed in order to enforce the Justice Department's voting rights enforcement efforts — appeared to be inaccurate.
Critics of including the citizenship question argue it was designed as part of a Republican ploy to scare immigrants from participating in the survey and to engineer a population undercount in Democratic-leaning communities with large immigrant populations.
Justice Department lawyers scrambled to meet a court deadline last week to detail a path forward to add the question to the Census — a reversal that was prompted by a tweet from the president earlier in the week urging officials to continue pursuing avenues to add the question despite the Supreme Court's ruling and public statements from the Justice and Commerce Departments indicating the question would not be included.
"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!" Trump tweeted at the time. "We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question."
Trump, who has argued that the citizenship question is needed to accurately count the population, has pledged to delay the decennial population survey manded by the U.S. Constitution to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling.
The Justice Department also announced late Sunday that it is assigning a new team of lawyers to defend the president's ongoing efforts to include the citizenship question to the Census.
A statement announcing the abrupt switch did not provide an explanation for the decision, but the move has prompted speculation that Justice Department lawyers assigned to the case refused to come up with a new rationale for getting the question on the census after repeatedly citing voting rights efforts in court. It also hinted at the possibility that administration officials feared the lawyers would no longer be viewed as credible by judges presiding over the cases.