• This story is available for reprint at no cost to Chicago news outlets or blogs. Please call 312.369.6400 to see if you qualify.
  • At the bottom of this blog, you will find a list of resources, including local and national sources working on the census as well as articles to give you historical context.
  • For a list of local sources, please download this PDF USCensus source list


SCOTUS weighs in, advocates call it a win


What’s the reason? It better be good and you better not lie.

It’s a familiar parental warning. But it’s also apparently something the Supreme Court of the United States demands.

Civil rights advocates pushing for a full census count next year were celebrating Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling in which the justices decided government did not have a good enough reason to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census.

“We won,” said Matthew Colangelo, who argued for the New York Attorney General’s office along with about 130 other plaintiffs suing to remove the question. He spoke on a national call held by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights about next steps after the decision.

“The court held that the government had to disclose the basis for its decision,” Colangelo said. And the main reason given — that the question would mean gathering better data for enforcing the Voting Rights Act — “was not valid.” Or, simply put, he said, “You can’t lie and the Commerce Secretary did.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the question was at the request of the Justice Department. As the case unfolded, evidence showed it did not. Instead, the idea came from a political strategist.

Opponents, including top experts from the Census Bureau itself, had argued the question was politically motivated and would result in an undercount of millions — most of them people of color.

Yet, there still remains a question about the question. The court blocked the census question saying the reasons were not valid. It did not dismiss the question as invalid. So, technically, the Trump Administration could come back with another reason why the government need this question. Indeed, the President responded on Twitter saying he would ask his lawyers to delay the Census “no matter how long” as they look into giving the court more information.

This ignores the timetable census officials have given — that they must start printing forms by July 1 to make the mandated deadline of April 1, 2020. And it also ignores the Constitution, which sets the deadline.

But while claiming victory, advocates were also warning that much damage has already been done, scaring too many people away from responding to the census.

The census is in the Constitution as a key government tool to use for a variety of decisions, including how to spend more than $675 billion in community funding for things such as education, justice, housing and other federal programs. It is also the mechanism government uses to determine the number of representatives each state will have in Congress. An undercount translates into a loss of seats in the House of Representatives and a loss of federal money. Illinois stands to lose both. It can also affect the number of seats in the City Council or the county board.

“This administration is clearly and deliberately seeking to undercount community members of color,” said Jamal Watkins, of the NAACP. “That means we have to get out the count like no other and focus on complete count strategies.”

Several lawyers during the briefing said it is crucial that people reiterate that it is against the law (title 13) for the Secretary of Commerce or anyone working on the census to give out personal information. Indeed, any information given out has to be statistical.

“Trust in the census has already been eroded and fear has already grown,” said Justin Valas, policy director for Asian American Advancing Justice Chicago. “It is up to us to give them good information about why this is important.” He noted that Gov. Pritzker has allocated $29 million for the census count in Illinois. “We will work hard and do our best” to allay fears and “get an accurate count.”

Susy Schultz is president of Public Narrative, which is part of the Illinois Count Me In campaign. This story is available for reprint. To do so, please call Public Narrative at 312.329-6400.




Brennan Center for Justice 

National Council of State Legislators 

NPR — reporter Hansi Lo Wang is amazing in his census coverage.

Poynter Institute 

Pew Research Center

Advocacy projects


Forefront Coalition


Population loss in Chicago and Cook County

Example of Reporting Chicago’s Demographic Changes

GAO Reports on the 2020 Census

Funding for the Census

Analysis and Resources

Measuring the financial loss from undercounts and critical services

Problems with the Census