1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

The Supreme Court blocks Census citizenship question for now. Here’s why that matters to Florida.

Florida is already at risk of a high undercount. Including a question asking respondents if they were citizens would have depressed it further.
Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments over the Trump administration's plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Critics say the citizenship question on the census will inhibit responses from immigrant-heavy communities that are worried the information will be used to target them for possible deportation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Published Jun. 27
Updated Jun. 27

The U.S. Supreme Court stopped, for now, an effort by the Trump administration to put a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census, returning the case to a lower court and requiring officials to provide a better explanation for why it’s needed.

It’s a significant blow to U.S. Department of Commerce officials who sought to add the question. The U.S. Census Bureau was planning to print forms as early as next week, and it’s not clear if there will be time to argue for the question in court beforehand.

Had the court approved the question, forms would have asked every resident in every household whether they are a U.S. citizen, a move expected to lead to undercounts of immigrants and Hispanics. It would have been the first time it was asked on such a scale since 1950.

The question, approved by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, was expected (by outside researchers and the bureau itself) to dissuade a sizable portion of the country, especially noncitizens, immigrants and Hispanic people overall, to respond to the Census.

If people refuse to respond to the census forms received in the mail or online, the Census follows up to try to count them anyway. Census takers will knock on doors, ask neighbors and look up other government records. But groups with lower initial response rates risk a chance of never being counted at all.

Florida is still expected to fall prey to a high undercount - projected to be either the 7th or 8th highest among states. Black and Hispanic residents, of which Florida has high populations, are more likely to be missed in general. In addition, one in every 11 Florida residents is not a citizen. (Noncitizens include both undocumented immigrants and those here legally).

For states, Census counts matter for determining apportionment of congressional representatives. But at every level of government, they’re used to determine where to build schools or hospitals, allocate budgets and award grants.

Despite the undercount risk, this state has taken an active role in pushing for the citizenship question. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody signed an amicus brief supporting the question. Of the 17 states to sign on, only Texas has a higher noncitizen population.

Supporters argue that the question is necessary to count the citizen, voting-age population. Knowing that figure, currently determined through survey data, is important for identifying majority-minority districts in accordance with the Voting Rights Act.

But critics suspect asking the question stems from interest in state redistricting based on citizen population, which would in many states give more electoral clout to heavily-white areas. A report found on the old computer of a late Republican operative in Texas outlined how doing so would help the GOP.

Thursday’s Court’s opinion was that the primary justification for adding the question “seems to have been contrived.”

Republicans in Florida have gone so far as to say even congressional representation should rely on each state’s number of citizens, rather than all its residents. Doing so would go against a U.S. Constitution clause that requires counting "the whole number of persons in each State” for reapportionment. (That has always meant total population, except for when it excluded Native Americans and counted three-fifths of the enslaved population.)

Another Florida connection: James Uthmeier, a top attorney for Gov. Ron DeSantis, was in the thick of the process. Uthmeier, who used to work as an adviser and counsel for the Commerce Department under Ross, gave testimony in mid-June to the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee but refused to answer many of the questions about his role.

Uthmeier told the committee he consulted a “long-term mentor,” the law professor and The Federalist Society contributor John Baker. Baker has argued for using the citizenship question to limit congressional apportionment only to citizen population.

“Political representation for aliens in the elections for the House of Representatives conflicts with the ‘one-person, one-vote’ principle,” Baker wrote in 2018.


  1. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  2. Richard Swearingen, Florida's Commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, testifies before state lawmakers on Monday. Florida Channel
    But law enforcement officials are getting behind a “threat assessment system.”
  3. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  4. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  5. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  6. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  7. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  8. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  9. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  10. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.