President Donald Trump on Friday said he may issue an executive order in an effort to add a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 US census as his administration faces a Friday afternoon court deadline to reveal its plans.
"We’re working on a lot of things including an executive order," Trump told reporters outside the White House as he left for his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.
He also suggested that a query about citizenship could be added at a later date even if it is not on the questionnaire currently being printed.
Maryland-based US District Court Judge George Hazel wants the administration to state its intentions by 2 p.m.
A White House spokesman said on Thursday that officials are examining "every option" available to add the query to the decennial population survey.
Trump administration officials have been scrambling in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling on June 27 that blocked the inclusion of the question, saying administration officials had given a "contrived" rationale for including it. But the court left open the possibility that the administration could offer a plausible rationale.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Tuesday said the Census Bureau had started the process of printing the census questionnaires without the citizenship query, giving the impression that the administration had backed down.
But Trump then ordered a policy reversal via tweet on Wednesday, saying he would fight on, although the government has said the printing process continues.
The census is used to allot seats in the US House of Representatives and distribute some $800 billion in federal services, including public schools, Medicaid benefits, law enforcement and highway repairs.
Critics have called the citizenship question a Republican ploy to scare immigrants into not participating and engineer a population undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant populations. They say that officials lied about their motivations for adding the question and that the move would help Trump's fellow Republicans gain seats in the House and state legislatures when new electoral district boundaries are drawn.
Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country. His hard-line policies on immigration have been a key element of his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign.
A group of states including New York and immigrant rights organizations challenged the legality of the citizenship question, arguing among other things that the US Constitution requires congressional districts to be distributed based on a count of "the whole number of persons in each state" with no reference to citizenship. Three different federal judges blocked the administration before the Supreme Court intervened.
The Supreme Court ruled that in theory the government can ask about citizenship on the census, but rejected the rationale given by the Trump administration for adding.
The administration had originally told the courts the question was needed to better enforce a law that protects the voting rights of racial minorities.
Administration officials had repeatedly told the Supreme Court they needed to finalize the details of the census questionnaire by the end of June.
Even if a citizenship question is not included, the Census Bureau is still able to gather data on citizenship, which the Trump administration could provide to states when they are drawing new electoral districts.