After Trump Contradicts Officials In Tweet, DOJ Reverses Course, Says It's Trying to Include Citizenship Question

The Department of Justice (DOJ), reversing course on whether the 2020 census would ask respondents to disclose their citizenship status, declared on Wednesday that they are finding a way to add the question on orders from President Donald Trump.

The move comes hours after Trump appeared to contradict his own officials in a tweet where he called reports that the citizenship question had been thrown out "FAKE," despite the DOJ and Trump administration officials pledging just one day earlier that the census would not include a citizenship question.

"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! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question," the president tweeted earlier today.

Following Trump's comments, Joseph Hunt, an assistant attorney general with DOJ's civil division, told federal Judge George Hazel in Maryland on Wednesday that the department's been "instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court's decision, that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census," according to a transcript of the teleconference call.

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"We think there may be a legally available path under the Supreme Court's decision. We're examining that, looking at near-term options to see whether that's viable and possible," he added.

In response, Hazel, who is overseeing the Maryland lawsuits over the citizenship question, set a Friday deadline for the Trump administration to act on the citizenship question. "By Friday at 2 p.m. I want one of two things," he said. "I either want a stipulation, as we've been discussing, indicating that the citizenship question will not appear on the census, or I want a proposed scheduling order for how we're going forward on the equal protection claim that's been remanded to this Court."

The Supreme Court ruled against having the citizenship question added to the census last week, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing that the Trump administration's justification for the measure "appears to have been contrived." However, he allowed an opportunity for the administration to offer a more adequate explanation. The Supreme Court's decision upheld a ruling made by a Manhattan federal court, which found that the Commerce Department breached federal procedural law and the Constitution by adding the censorship question to the census in 2018.

Attorney General Letitia James of New York, whose law firm led the lawsuit, condemned Trump's comments as "another attempt to sow chaos and confusion."

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"The Supreme Court of the United States has spoken, and Trump's own Commerce Department has spoken," she said, according to The New York Times. "It's time to move forward to ensure every person in the country is counted."

DOJ officials appeared confused over the president's contradiction of his own administration. During the conference call, one DOJ lawyer told the judge that "this tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president's position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and Your Honor. I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the president has tweeted. But, obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what's going on."

Donald Trump Citizenship Question
US President Donald Trump speaks to the media before signing a bill for border funding in the Oval Office at the White House on July 1, 2019 in Washington, DC. The Department of Justice reversed course on whether to insert a citizenship question into the 2020 census on Wednesday after Trump posted a tweet that apparently contradicted officials. Mark Wilson/Getty
After Trump Contradicts Officials In Tweet, DOJ Reverses Course, Says It's Trying to Include Citizenship Question | Politics