Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Census Citizenship Question

Documents disclosed in the case showed that Mr. Ross had discussed the citizenship issue early in his tenure with Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and an architect of the Trump administration’s tough policies against immigrants, and that Mr. Ross had met at Mr. Bannon’s direction with Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state and a vehement opponent of unlawful immigration.

Judge Jesse M. Furman, of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, had called for Mr. Ross to be questioned under oath, but the Supreme Court blocked that order in October. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the court should have gone further by shutting down all pretrial fact-gathering. Justice Gorsuch added that there was no indication of bad faith in Mr. Ross’s conduct.

“There’s nothing unusual about a new cabinet secretary coming to office inclined to favor a different policy direction, soliciting support from other agencies to bolster his views, disagreeing with staff or cutting through red tape,” Justice Gorsuch wrote at the time. “Of course, some people may disagree with the policy and process. But until now, at least, this much has never been thought enough to justify a claim of bad faith and launch an inquisition into a cabinet secretary’s motives.”

In November, the Supreme Court rejected a request from the Trump administration to halt the trial, over the dissents of Justices Thomas, Gorsuch and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Mr. Ross also said he was merely reinstating the question, and it is true that the federal government has long gathered information about citizenship. “Most censuses in our history have asked about citizenship,” Justice Gorsuch wrote in a dissent from a Supreme Court order allowing a trial on adding the citizenship question to move forward.

But the accuracy of that statement depends on what counts as a census. According to a recent article in The Georgetown Law Journal’s online supplement by Thomas P. Wolf and Brianna Cea, “the census has never asked for the citizenship status of everyone in the country.”

Until 1950, they wrote, various kinds of questions “about the citizenship or naturalization status of all foreign-born people” were sometimes posed, but no census sought the citizenship status of every person in the nation.

After 1950, they wrote, no question relating to citizenship was included in the forms sent once a decade to each household. Questions about citizenship did appear on “long form” questionnaires sent to a subset of households until 2000 and on a separate survey since then.