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Trump may issue executive order in census immigration fight

Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump plans to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon to discuss a controversial citizenship question that he has been trying to add to the 2020 census.

Trump, whose earlier efforts were blocked by the Supreme Court, has suggested he may sign an executive order or other presidential directive that some conservative legal advocates see as his best hope to pass judicial review.

The issue has enormous importance to California and other states with large immigrant populations.

Experts say adding a citizenship question is likely to cause many immigrants to not respond to the census, lowering population counts used to determine how federal grants are allocated and how many seats in Congress each state has.

The Supreme Court ruled two weeks ago, in a 5-4 decision, that the Trump administration's rationale for adding the question was contrived.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who cast the deciding vote in the case, left Trump a slim opening if his administration could quickly come up with a legally plausible reason for adding the question.

The timeline has made that process difficult. The administration had told courts that it needed to begin printing census forms by July 1, and the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, announced last week that it had begun printing the forms without the citizenship question.

Trump has been reluctant to give up the fight -- an important one to his political base -- not only because it could help Republican states gain more influence but also because it touches on the immigration issue at the heart of Trump's reelection campaign.

Trump this week sent out a campaign email calling it "totally ridiculous that our Nation's government cannot ask a basic question of citizenship in our very EXPENSIVE, very important Census."

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Trump's legal team hopes that a presidential directive laying out Trump's authority to add the citizenship question will speed the process through the courts, avoiding the bureaucracy of the Commerce Department.

But Justice Department lawyers have told the White House their proposals are unlikely to work. And Trump's shifting legal strategies have frustrated lower court judges, who have demanded more consistent answers from administration lawyers caught off-guard by Trump's tweets.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department announced that the entire legal team working on the census issue would be swapped out for new lawyers -- an indication of the dissension the case has caused.

So far, however, two federal judges presiding over census-related cases have refused to allow the old lawyers to step aside.

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