The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that for now, the citizenship question that the Trump administration wanted to put on the 2020 census cannot be asked. Among those who had been making the case against the question was Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who is the state's liaison when it comes to the census. Galvin argued the question could lead to an undercount in Massachusetts, jeopardizing federal funding and potentially reducing the state's clout in Congress. Secretary Galvin spoke with WGBH Radio’s Aaron Schachter. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Aaron Schachter: Secretary, many had predicted the ruling would come down the other way, in favor of the Trump administration. But Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the liberal wing of the court in a 5-4 decision, saying that the administration's rationale for the question — that it would be used to enforce the Voting Rights Act — was “contrived.” Are you surprised with that decision?
Bill Galvin: I'm somewhat surprised, because I read the transcript of John Roberts' questions during the course of the hearing. But I'm, first of all, delighted. Chief Justice Roberts continues to present surprises. He has done this before, and let's keep the surprises coming.
But I think the real issue now is, we have to decide what's important, and clearly an accurate count is the most important. And getting an accurate count of a country this diverse, this big, cannot be done if we delay the printing of this form. It needs to be printed. When you talk about printing forms, distribution of forms, multiple languages, all the factors that go into this, the introduction for the first time of online filing, we don't have the time to fool around with additional litigation. I also have to say, I'm delighted about the decision, but I also recognize that the atmosphere we're taking this in is still going to make non-citizens a very difficult group to count.
Schachter: And do you worry that non-citizens or households with non-citizens might forego the census?
Galvin: Yes, I do.
Schachter: And why is that?
Galvin: Well because the atmosphere is so difficult. I've presided over the census for Massachusetts on two previous occasions, and immigrants are always a challenging group to count because, quite reasonably, they would say, 'Well, we're not citizens, why are we being counted?' Even if they were legitimately and legally here.
Schachter: But we're also talking, I would think, families whose children are citizens.
Galvin: Yes. In the past, we reached out through community groups, indigenous groups. But what we've come across so far in our effort for 2020 is they're saying to us they're not going to believe us even if we tell them this information is not going to be shared with ICE or anybody else. That's the challenge. The challenge is credibility.
Schachter: Are there really that many people, do you think, in Massachusetts that this would affect?
Galvin: Yes. We have a population, we believe, of 6.9 million. Of that 6.9 million, one million persons are non-citizens. Now some of them are legally present here, a significant number of them are. But even to a legally present person, there are reasons to say, 'Well, why would I tell them this?' Given what they've seen and heard.
Schachter: The Supreme Court is giving U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who is in charge of the census, an opportunity to explain himself further. I know you say the timeline is tight, but are you worried there is a chance the question could end up on the census after all?
Galvin: Sure. I'm worried about it. And that's why I'm saying, apart from worrying about the substance of the question, I think the damage has been done, but also I'm concerned about delaying the process. And I think it's important to point out also, this is not simply about political representation. It's also about money. And for us in Massachusetts, when it comes to public transportation, I don't think we need any more examples of how much we need help on that.
Right now we're having a large debate within our state about the amount of money being spent on public education. This is another source of funds for public education, particularly for districts that are urban and poorer. We have other challenges here in Massachusetts, not simply the immigrant issue. Another big part of our population is college students. And historically, that's been a problem, because, quite rightfully so, they think of themselves as residents of other states where they came from or where they're going back to, even though the Federal Bureau says no, they should be counted where they spend most of the year. So we have a lot of challenges to come up with that number. If we prove out at 6.9 million, we will absolutely protect our political representation. But more importantly, we're going to get the money we need.