The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Department of Commerce's attempt to add a citizenship question to the decennial questionnaire in a 5-4 decision this morning. With the deadline for printing questionnaires about to hit, the outcome is unclear.

"We oppose the citizenship question's addition because it hadn't undergone the rigorous testing required for any added questions," commented Howard Fienberg, VP Advocacy for the Insights Association. "More importantly, it would jeopardize the accuracy of census data upon which nearly all the marketing research and data analytics in the United States relies for statistical benchmarking. It would negatively impact insights generation for private businesses, nonprofit organizations, and all levels of government across the country."

The decision in U.S. Department of Commerce v. State of New York, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, indicated that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had the authority to add a citizenship question and did not violate the requirements of the Census Act or Administrative Procedures Act. However, the court remanded the case back to the lower court because, "Several points, taken together, reveal a significant mismatch between the Secretary’s decision and the rationale he provided."

For now, that means that the citizenship question is not on the decennial census, but it seems that the Department of Commerce may yet be able to add it. 

Key questions remain, particularly since the Census Bureau needs to start printing the questionnaires by July 1. Will the Bureau delay printing in order to give the lower courts time to further adjudicate the citizenship question? If printing is delayed, how much will that delay cost taxpayers (and is there enough printing capacity available to do the printing at the last minute)? If printing begins and the Commerce Department wins in the lower courts (which may take several months at least), will the Department task the Census Bureau with reprinting all the questionnaires to add the citizenship question?

The Insights Association had joined an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in opposition to the citizenship question's addition in this controversial case, with 24 other companies and business groups. Research indicated that it would reduce response rates.

"The Supreme Court decision is a win for accurate census data," Fienberg concluded. "We urge the Department of Commerce to respect this decision and immediately move ahead with 2020 Census preparations. There is no time to waste."