Justices argue citizenship census question

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Trump administration's proposal to ask if people are citizens on the 2020 census.
14:16 | 04/23/19

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Transcript for Justices argue citizenship census question
A huge day here at the court one of the biggest cases the court will hear this year. On an issue that will affect our politics directly impact the lives of million Americans. For the next decade or more that's the 20/20 cents is the question on the table today was whether or not the census. Can't ask a question on citizenship you get an accurate headcount who will count. It was quite fiery and must say in the courtroom I was an entity with Terry Moran. Our chief national correspondent and Supreme Court guru who joins us now come on interior. I thought you were in there who would you make an exotic arguments they were they were pretty colorful there were dramatic two are you a citizen. That that's the question that they that the trump administration want to ask everyone of us and for a lot of people that's a hard question. And you could feel the stakes in their justice Sonia Sotomayor who several times interrupted rather sharply I'm sorry. She would say to to the trump administration's lawyer do you not understand you know what the stakes are here but the question is. Is this lawful. And on that issue it looks to me I don't know about you like that like there's five votes to support the trump administration's position that this question. Can be asked on the 20/20 senses even though it will probably. Depress the number of people reduced who answer the question. And it's quite a conundrum for the government and he knows a constitutional requirement that all people are included offense as. And yet we have as a government report saying that if they go ahead and ask this question. An estimated six million people won't must follow and so is not a government admitting that this. Is an issue well they have admitted that day they say that it's worth it. Outlook congress gave the secretary of commerce which show or the Commerce Department oversees the census are a lot of power. To do the senses anywhere he or she wants to. Now there's a law called the administrative procedures act that limits every cabinet official what they can do. And they characters of the this just arbitrary and capricious I think it just does do something because they want to. And that was the question is what I was surprised that in in in the the arguments so. The drug administrations as we want to do this even though will harm the sense is we have a legitimate reason to help enforce the voting rights act which the Justice Department does. And yet there is evidence in the record that that's a lie. That in fact Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller over the White House cooked this idea up and made Wilbur Ross the commerce secretary put this in. But the court didn't really zero in on that it's almost as if as long as you've got some kind of excuse for doing this. This court. At least with this president will let you go and ingesting a motive could matter should match but it seems to indicate they decorate level at three lower federal courts to areas you know struck. This down they sided with the challengers to the citizenship question. How will come back to some of those arguments and looked over there were more closely what the justices were saying today but let's remind everybody what is at stake. Hot in the census we have a look here take a look at this list. So the census every ten years count how many people simply live in the United States they use that data such as some statistical exercise. These it to decide how many members of congress from each state each local. Can district are represented here washing of course elect tore all votes are based on the senses and all that federal money billions of federal dollars are distributed. Based on where people live in this country CC everything from. Money for roads college grants school lunch programs and like it and businesses. Take a look at the census and base their decisions are on where people are living where people. Are setting up shops and a lot is on the line we heard from some of the immigrant communities today who could be. Hardest hit are Erica Kane caught up with folks pro testing out here against the citizenship question toothless. We know back. Yeah Spain. Yeah. It's gonna wreck at once and again. The basis. Or all of the season. Representation of the attic else. Federal funds in the government's own analysis was if you put this question six and a half million of the respondents. We're here today and we believe that's what you think it's back any sort. Primarily it's want to have an accurate count. And having this question that is really going to Kabul important across the country. Favorably. Fiction. Joining us now is one of the leaders of the immigrant advocacy groups challenging. The trump administration's inclusion of citizenship question Jorge Vasquez is a lawyer with Latino justice joins us from New York also filed an amicus brief here. After court on the issue were a great to see you so got to ask you a question that came up today in the courtroom Terry murdered as well. Get to a lot of people including some of the conservative justices asked teens a citizenship question seems perfectly reasonable. Why not in fact the United States did it for a for many many years a lot of other countries do at the UN actually recommends that it's included on the census. So what in your view is so troublesome about asking people whether or not their citizens. There's a few different. One is not needed. So annually people get American community survey known as the AC RS and the ACS goals outs. Countless homes throughout the United States and it's a long form as the long form census and on that form individuals are acts of whether they are citizen. We know that the purpose of this that it those census is to get a complete count of all persons within this country. And all persons. Meets a feel comfortable with government and it's a feel comfortable. Answering the census for the reasons you highlight it earlier namely fears about 700 billion dollars that gets advocated annually. Our emergency responses depended on census data. Simple things you and I probably remember what it was like to have a cell phone in the late 90s32 thousands and coal is dropping. Because private businesses use census data to determine how many people are in a certain geographical block so something as simple. Asked whether or not our cell phone reception of B. Asked. Ask connected designees to be Swedish or we Google wallet our daily lives. Art things that are affected by the by the census and asked the Justice Department noted there is at least I wouldn't say six many I would say at least six million. Because what we know is that in the United States we have over a ten million mixed status households. And make status households are households. In which there's at least one US citizen within the home. How many times it's a child sometimes it's one spouse and not the other. And what we know from different servers that have gone out is that these individuals in the mix that is households don't feel comfortable. And searing a citizenship question. Also. We know that. Questions for the senses get vetted and big get scrutinized. And their tested. And they're tested again and this is year on year on year on year and for his citizenship question it's untested question. It's there. First time in nearly 65 years that we're going back to trying to acts whether someone is the citizen. And what that experts have said regarding. The implementation. Of this and the experts being the six former. Directors at the Census Bureau is that no this is gonna give us fourth seed David and that racists who great. I mean it affects oil. Ed Ed Ed and Terry. To its interest in Jorge brings up this at this point that it was suppressed it in the court today time and again. The solicitor general to have the drug administration said every single additional question that's packed into the census will turn off. Some people they will choose may choose not to answer it's that he was making our room we already ask about sex gender of the have a TV used to be a question are you married. Those aren't. Called for in the constitution that they could certainly. Impact the participation they could but there's no evidence that they do yet it could be at some future time asking somebody about their gender might be off putting and would depress the count. What the argument was on behalf of the people don't want to trump administration to ask. This question we should have possessed variant. It's not political correctness its social science it's demography it is the study how to get information out of the public it will harm that count. And there is very good evidence that asking the question are you a citizen. In many communities will give you a less accurate census and we need an accurate when the governor and I. Certainly can be judging this case out of this moment in time we're talking about an immigrant community event under this administration. Has felt particularly under attack. Have felt vulnerable law and her message at that's just means we've seen how we've seen it anecdotally but also in some Dina and that's this administration. And this moment it is is coloring the judgment in this case. In the liberal justices certainly picked up on that point was perhaps is some interest in quotes today it was like an onslaught against solicitor general. I know Francisco take a look right out of the gate Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Says didn't the Census Bureau find the put into question the short form would depress the count she said she put him on his heels. But then came justice Sonia Sotomayor who declared this is a 100%. That people will answer the last on that survey and justice Elena Kagan perhaps a button it up. Ramos is simply said secretary of course can deviate from his experts recommendations and bottom line that he needs a reason to that I don't see a reason. Terry at the ended today Francisco said. Secretaries of a lot of discretion. It's about reasonableness and he is being reasonable here and your job is to look at how we the lawyers for the drug administration. Fit this move into the proper legal boxes your job is not to look behind those boxes and say what's really going on here was the band's Steve Miller up to you is this legitimate. All you have to do would do we have a good argument on the law and and that is it seemed to be persuasive to the conservative justice James Jordan Phelps joins us from the White House Jordan what's the White House saying about this case today. DeVon White House really knows that this fall is an in their court right now it's up that the Supreme Court where you are. Right now by DeVon what they're saying. Is that the president very much does want an accurate count but there into sizing like carrying you have been saying. That really eyes secretary Ross has the authority here and that's what they're into sizing eight in making the case that. The administration is on on sound ground right now when interesting contrast I might point out is right now you see this. Case the administration making the argument that you know motives. Pat whether motive matters are not in another case a legal battle they're making the exact opposite case. I've members of congress are trying to get access to the president's tax returns based on the fact that they have the authority the administration says that they have an ulterior motive. I think they're saying that that upstream motive matters. I in that case but in this case you see the administration. Saying that at the motive doesn't matter what matters is the authority. Jorge Vasquez before we let you go want to get your. Prediction on this and conservative majority on this court certainly flashed. Their colors today signaling perhaps they're inclined to overturn the lower courts hear what's what's your read on this as you look at these briefs and arguments. As a look at the briefs and arguments by I think the court is gonna come out and strike down the citizenship question I think it's Hollings who read just. Judge Furman of the southern district of New York's opinion it's 277. Pages but it he turned to about page 194195. Peace right scary. He cites who decisions. Great and as as early as or as late as 2018. When now justice Cavanaugh was on the DC Circuit Court. And he uses a strain of cases by justice cabin not where justice Kavanagh decides. What's arbitrary and capricious. What's a violation of the eight. And looking. Prior decisions by justice Kavanagh passed so what violates the administrative procedure act. It's likely that I believe this court will come out and find that the citizenship question is a lawful. But I think it's important for viewers at home to know that whether the citizenship question stays on the senses or not and I hope that it does not. Because it deters individuals that we all have a duty here in the United States who insure debt Arafat whom neighbors or properly fairly and accurately. Accounted for and the census. Thanks for coming on Jorge Velasquez with Latino justice our thanks to Jordan Phelps has while the White House Terry where we let you go you. Have a crystal ball and these sorts of things what's your what's your read on what we saw today. Well it does seem as if this is conservative majority is ready to do far. To the trump administration as long as they have decent argument runs and eleven of the travel ban case right. Behind the travel Mann case where these was statements that president trump had made as candidate. That many people found. Racially offensive or or did that demonstrated some kind of antagonism against him and against Muslims in particular. Once it got to the Supreme Court they had put it in those little boxes. And that the majority the court said that looks fine to us. And that is the story of trump administration actions in the court as long as you can dress it up. Their goal behind at the moment. We know we're talking here about conservative judges and liberal judges. In DC receives talk about politics the wonder it's interesting to me in this case is that red and Blue States could be really impacted by an undercount. I saw some testament that said that one in ten. People living in Texas. Estimated to be a non citizens of Texas. Could have a huge drop in federal funding if there was a big undercount there. It impacts for their opinion by the end agendas that's of course when they're going to be printing the census questionnaire form so coming soon Terry Moran thinks I should come back Terry great to have you let us.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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