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Gov. Steve Sisolak signs an executive order creating a 2020 census committee one year out from the decennial count. (Joey Lovato/The Nevada Independent)

The Supreme Court’s decision to prevent the Commerce Department from including a citizenship question in the 2020 census was met with praise from Nevada Democratic lawmakers, who renewed their calls for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to resign. 

“Today’s decision is a clear sign that the Supreme Court recognizes this administration tried to lie its way through our judicial system in order to add a political question on citizenship to the 2020 Census,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in a statement. “A citizenship question has no place on the U.S. Census. As I’ve said before, Secretary Ross should resign and President Trump should abandon this attack on communities in America.” 

The ruling said that the reasons the Commerce Department gave to include the question—which were to help enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA)—were “contrived.” But it also left open the possibility that the agency can try to provide a more acceptable justification and possibly still add the question to the census. A fact underscored by Gov. Steve Sisolak.

“Today’s #SCOTUS decision is a significant victory, but the fight is not over,” Sisolak wrote on Twitter. “We must continue to ensure the census is fair, complete & accurate for all. That’s why I’m proud that our Complete Count Committee is working to make sure #NevadaCounts.”

Including a question on whether a person is a citizen in the 2020 census is expected to lead to fewer people taking part and thereby costing states with significant minority populations such as Nevada millions in federal funding. The decennial population count is used to allocate federal funds to the states and to draw electoral districts.

The Urban Institute projected that 4 million people around the nation would likely not be counted as a result of the citizenship question. The group estimates that between 0.76 percent to 1.73 percent of Nevada’s population could be undercounted. 

Cortez Masto’s comments were echoed by Rep. Dina Titus who said the “effort to add a citizenship question to the census is a disgraceful attempt to rig election outcomes and silence communities of color.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision makes clear that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross misled Congress and the American people about his true intentions,” she added. "He should resign. We cannot be silent about this attack on our schools, our hospitals, our roads, and our voting power.”

Rep. Steven Horsford noted that the “question up for debate was designed to frighten immigrants into not participating in the census and would have had devastating consequences for the country as a whole, and specifically for Nevada, where nearly one in five citizens were born outside of the United States.” 

In March 2018, Ross announced that he had decided to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire at the request of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which sought census block level citizenship data to use in enforcing the VRA.

But the court found that Ross went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ, or any other willing agency. 

“And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion on the matter.

Roberts joined with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan on the question issue rendering a 5 to 4 decision.

A group of progressive activists in Nevada also welcomed the decision, including Emily Persaud-Zamora, who is executive director of Silver State Voices & chair of the Nevadans Count Coalition.

“This decision by the Court is a weight off Nevada’s shoulders as we prepare for our mission to count every Nevadan in the upcoming 2020 Census,” she said. “Coming from a mixed status family myself, the fear among immigrant communities is very real, but we remain determined and emboldened by today’s decision, to make sure that all Nevadans are counted.” 

Persaud-Zamora is also a member Sisolak’s Complete Count Committee, which was created in April to help ensure all Nevadans are counted in the 2020 census. 

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