President Donald Trump on Friday said he is looking at issuing an executive order to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
"We're thinking about doing that, we have four or fives ways we can do it, it's one of the ways we're thinking about doing it very seriously," Trump said when asked about using an executive order to add the question.
"We can start the printing (of the census forms) now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision, so we're working on a lot of things, including an executive order," he added.
However, such a move by the president directing the Census Bureau to include the question could prompt a new round of lawsuits from civil rights groups who initially sued to block the question.
Trump's comments came as Justice Department lawyers are scrambling to meet a Friday afternoon court deadline to come up with a legal pathway for including the question — a reversal that was spurred by an irate tweet from the president earlier this week urging officials to press forward despite a Supreme Court ruling and public statements from the Justice and Commerce departmentsthat the question would not be included.
"The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!" Trump tweeted Wednesday. "We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question."
The census forms are currently being printed without the citizenship question, officials have said.
U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel of Maryland ordered Justice Department lawyers to state by 2 p.m. Friday whether the government is ending its quest or whether it intends to keep seeking a way to add the question. If they are still pushing to add the question, the judge said, the lawyers must submit a proposed schedule for further legal proceedings.
Joseph Hunt, a Justice Department lawyer, told the judge in the Maryland case Wednesday the situation is "fluid."
"We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court's decision, that would allow to include the citizenship question on the census," Hunt said.
In a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberal justices, the court majority said the government has the right to ask a citizenship question, but needs to properly justify changing the longstanding practice of the Census Bureau. Opponents of adding the question said it was designed as a Republican effort to depress response rates in largely Democratic immigrant communities.