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What the Supreme Court’s census ruling means for Minnesota

Minnesotans prepping for the 2020 census were pleased Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the federal government from including a citizenship question on the form -- at least for now.

But proponents of eliminating the question said there’s still plenty of uncertainty about what’s next, and they fear lingering litigation and administrative actions could still dissuade some Minnesotans from participating next year.

“Today is a positive moment, but none of what we’ve been dealing with up to this point is going to go away,” said Bob Tracy with the Minnesota Council on Foundations. “We’re going to be moving forward with the same challenges that we had before the question of adding a citizenship question was put before us about a year ago.”

The once-a-decade population count has big implications for Minnesota: the state is on the cusp of losing one of its eight seats in Congress to faster-growing states.

Here’s how the ruling could impact Minnesota’s count and what’s next:

What did the court rule?

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court found President Donald Trump's administration didn’t do a good enough job of explaining why the citizenship question needed to be added to the 2020 census form in the first place. It would be the first time since 1950 that the question would be posed to all households.

Trump’s administration argued the question would allow them to better enforce certain parts of the Voting Rights Act, but opponents have argued it is racially and politically motivated.

“Agencies must pursue their goals reasonably. Reasoned decision making under the Administrative Procedure Act calls for an explanation for agency action,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the ruling. “What was provided here was more of a distraction.”

What comes next?

The Supreme Court kicked the issue back down to lower courts, which have already ruled in three states that the administration’s reasoning was "pretextual," or dubious. The Department of Commerce could again make its case to lower courts.

The U.S. Census Bureau has said it’s reviewing the ruling, and Trump tweeted on Thursday that he wants to delay the count to continue legal challenges.

“I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter,” he tweeted. “Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able [to] ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!”

What impact could the citizenship question have on a population count?

Critics of the citizenship question argue it would discourage some individuals from participating, disproportionately impacting cities and states with large immigrant populations. If the question is included, national estimates show as many as 6.5 million people may not be counted.

“It would drive the census in the state of Minnesota dangerously close to not having entire households included because they might have mixed citizenship statuses within that household,” said Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota. “All of the Minnesotans within those communities are then left with compromised political representation, but also are left with the potential of losing out on resources that are critical for our communities.”

When does the census officially start?

The census officially kicks off on April 1, 2020, but some counting has to start earlier. In some of Alaska’s vast, sparsely populated areas, it’s actually easier for census workers to get around while the ground is still frozen, providing accessibility to some hard-to-reach areas. That counting typically starts in January.

But isn’t there work that needs to happen to get ready for the count?

Yes. The reason the case moved so quickly through the courts in the first place is because the administration initially said it faced a July 1 printing deadline for the forms. Some have pushed back on that date as the final deadline.

Other work has already begun in Minnesota.

State Demographer Susan Brower said they’ve been working with cities and counties across the state to organize committees to reach people in their communities. They’re also doing address verification, meaning they are checking the census lists of addresses and adding ones they missed.

Brower said they’ve already added 37,000 addresses to the census list, and they’re watching new construction to make sure those are added if people are living at those addresses by the time the count starts next year.

It’s also the first-ever digital census in the United States, so there are some technological roll outs that are still in progress.

How does the census count affect Minnesota?

The census results are used to allocate billions of dollars in federal funding. Minnesota gets roughly $15 billion a year from the federal government that can be directly tied back to the population count. The count is also used in apportionment, which determines how many seats each state gets in Congress. Minnesota is one of several states on the cusp of losing a seat to faster-growing states.

It’s unclear how the citizenship question would impact that process for Minnesota, which currently has eight congressional seats. One federal court noted states like California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and New York have larger immigrant communities and could see a larger number of people uncounted in 2020, risking their seats in Congress.

But Brower says every person matters. “We’re teetering on the edge,” she said. “Last time we kept it by about 8,000 people. And after the 2010 census, we are back in the same position right now.”

What are others saying about this?

DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who pushed to include state funding in the two-year budget for census efforts, said he was “disappointed” the court didn’t definitely rule against the question, but it was a “step in the right direction.”

“This fight will continue,” he said. “Despite the already chilling effect from the debate surrounding the citizenship question, our administration is dedicated to ensuring that every Minnesotan is counted and respected, regardless of their immigration status, and we are committed to protecting all Minnesotans.”