The absurd ways conservatives are justifying Trump’s lawless efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Update (7/10/19): This post has been updated with additional examples.

After President Donald Trump announced that he would defy the Supreme Court to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, conservative media figures rushed to defend the administration.

On June 27, the Supreme Court effectively blocked the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship status to the upcoming census, finding that it gave “contrived reasons” and demanding “genuine justifications” for the question. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, a memo from a “prominent Republican redistricting strategist” revealed that the Trump administration’s motive for adding the question may be to increase the political power of white Republicans.

But since Trump tweeted on July 3 that he would make up a new rationale to include a citizenship question in the census -- possibly by an executive order -- and basically admitted that the administration had been lying this whole time, Fox News and others in right-wing media have ignored the administration’s reversal and ginned up a variety of absurd justifications for adding the question.

Some conservatives misleadingly claimed the Obama administration removed a citizenship question from the 2010 census

A Fox & Friends guest falsely claimed the Obama administration “simply removed” a citizenship question from the census in 2010. But the decennial census hasn't included a nationwide citizenship question since 1950.​ In 1970, the citizenship question moved to a long-form questionnaire sent to fewer than 20% of American households. In 2010, the long-form questionnaire was replaced by the annual American Community Survey, which also includes a citizenship question.

Pro-Trump blogger Jim Hoft also pushed the misleading claim in an article headlined “The 2000 US Census Asked Citizenship Question — Obama Deleted it in 2010.”

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh: “The real question here is why did it come off of the census. The controversy here should not be putting it back on, the real question is who removed it? And we know the answer to that: Barack Hussein O. and Michelle my belle O.”

Others claimed the repeated inclusion of the word “citizens” in the 14th Amendment gives Trump justification for asking the question

A Wall Street Journal op-ed claimed that “the Constitution itself requires the collection of citizenship information” and recommended that Trump cite Section 2 of the 14th Amendment in an executive order.

Fox & Friends guest co-host Pete Hegseth also cited repeated mentions of the word “citizens” in the 14th Amendment to support Trump’s continued attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Daily Wire editor-at-large Josh Hammer: “One friend had a brilliant suggestion that struck me as both innovative and textually ironclad: Utilize the infrequently invoked second section of the Fourteenth Amendment, which seems to mandate that the federal government have data pertaining to the state-by-state numbers of (male and aged over 21 years old) citizens for purposes of apportionment and congressional representation.”

Some Fox News figures and guests openly used partisan political justifications for including a citizenship question on the census

Fox & Friends First guest George Rodriguez said the Trump administration should add a citizenship question to “punish” congressional districts that have high numbers of undocumented immigrants.

Fox guest Katrina Pierson defended possible executive action by Trump “to force” a citizenship question on the census as a counter to a “power grab” by Democrats through immigration.

Fox anchor Bret Baier pushed a Republican proposal to apportion congressional districts based on citizens instead of total number of residents.

Conservatives dismissed evidence that racist motive was behind including a citizenship question

Fox News host Tucker Carlson falsely claimed “there is nothing racial about a citizenship question” on the census, despite evidence showing that the question was intentionally crafted to advantage non-Hispanic whites and the Republican Party.

Fox contributor Bill McGurn said of opposition to the question: “The race argument, that’s what you say when you don’t have an argument.”

Fox contributor Lawrence Jones: “Calling this racist” is “a tool historically that Democrats have used to shut down the debate of this conversation.”

American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said Democrats’ opposition to including a citizenship question “is all part of these socialists Democrats’ attempt to weaken the concept of citizenry, to weaken the concept of being a citizen and the rights that come to you with that privilege, and changing the whole definition of what it means to be an American.”

Fox contributor Deroy Murdock: “This isn’t some paranoid, right-wing racist thing that [Trump] cooked up in the Oval Office.”

Fox contributor Marc Thiessen: “It does not disadvantage minorities.” 

Conservatives dismissed concern that including a citizenship question would make the census count less accurate

Fox host Jesse Watters asked why “Democrats don’t want the federal government to have an accurate read on who is in the country” by opposing the inclusion of a citizenship question. In reality, experts have said including the question would lead to a less accurate census as many non-citizens would not respond to the census.

Fox anchor Harris Faulkner dismissed Democratic concerns that noncitizens might “feel targeted,” saying, “They just won’t answer.”

Some Fox figures and guests mixed up a citizenship question with immigration status

Hegseth supported adding a citizenship question by saying it’s important “to know whether a human being here is legal or not illegal.” The census does not ask about immigration status.

Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz: “The idea that we would ask whether or not somebody’s here legally or not is a very reasonable question.”

Fox guest Brad Blakeman: “We have every right to ask that question. It’s beyond a right, it’s an obligation to find out how many Americans are legally here.”

Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren: “‘Are you a citizen?’ should be the first question on the damn census! We deserve to know how many illegals are in this country and who we are paying for! Also, illegals should never determine funding or representation!!”

Some conservatives disparaged a federal judge restricting the Trump administration’s moves in census case

Hoft: “Obama-Appointed Activist Judge Blocks DOJ Motion to WIthdraw Legal Team on Census Case.”

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs: “Yet Another Obama-Appointed Judge About to Get His Nose Rubbed in It.”

And some Fox figures didn’t even try to find a real legal argument for adding a citizenship question

Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham simply pointed to Canada’s inclusion of a citizenship question on its census to justify Trump’s attempted reversal.

Fox host Steve Hilton: “So what” if the Trump administration lied about why it wanted to include a citizenship question?