RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And the legal battle over a potential citizenship question on the 2020 census continues. The Supreme Court ruled to keep it off the census for now. Printing has already started, and the forms do not have the question on them. But Justice Department attorneys say they're still looking for a way to get the question on the census. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers all things census related and joins us now to explain what this all means. Good morning.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Trump administration says it's trying to find a new reason to add this question. Have they found one?
WANG: Not that I know of, and time is running out. This is - all the efforts around this question - is this person a citizen of the United States? And the Trump administration's stated reason before for adding this question was it better enforced part of the Voting Rights Act. It's important to remember the Supreme Court, in majority, found that that reason - they found it to - seems to have been contrived, the majority opinion said.
And, you know, the longer the Trump administration continues looking for a new reason to add this question, the more likely more evidence about exactly why and how this question was being pushed for within the administration may come out. Just yesterday, a federal judge in Maryland ordered a Trump administration official to sit for questioning under oath as part of ongoing lawsuits about this question.
MONTAGNE: Give us a thumbnail of why this question has been so controversial.
WANG: This is a kind of question that the Census Bureau has known - knows it to be a very sensitive question. And it's not the best way, Census Bureau researchers say, to collect citizenship information. It's a question that research has shown will discourage - very likely discourage an estimated 9 million people from participating in a head count that's required by the Constitution, which is a head count of every person living in the U.S., regardless of citizenship status. And this is a count required by the Constitution in order to determine how many seats in Congress each state gets.
MONTAGNE: OK. And in the face of so far reject - the rejection of this question, President Trump has floated an idea of an addendum with a citizenship question added to the paper census forms that are already being printed. Is that possible?
WANG: It's unclear. This is a possibility that is very likely to disrupt very, very detailed planning for the 2020 head count. You know, I was looking at the - there's an operational plan that goes into very, very specific details about exactly what's going to happen for the 2020 census. And I found a small detail that shows exactly how the forms, the actual paper forms, need to be stapled and also goes into detail how they should be processed.
So to add in an addendum at this point could have big implications for a very big job - 1.5 billion materials have to be printed for the 2020 census. That includes 137 million forms. Most of them are eight pages long. Others are 16 pages long. And that's not even mentioning the hundreds and millions of letters and postcards and envelopes that have to be printed.
MONTAGNE: Well, in the briefest a way you can tell us, what's next?
WANG: You know, one thing I'm looking for is there are existing government records on citizenship that have been compiled by the Census Bureau. And the bureau says if the president really wants accurate citizenship information, this is where he should get it from. They're more accurate than any responses to a question. But the bureau's waiting to figure out what it should do with it. It's ready to release this information. It just needs approval from the administration.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang, thanks much.
WANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.