Ex-federal judge reacts to Trump's retreat on census citizenship question: 'Tell the truth'

A former federal judge praised President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE's reversal on trying to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but said the administration should have been more upfront about its intentions from the beginning.

“I don’t want to be flip, but tell the truth,” Walter Kelley, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush as a U.S. district judge, told Hill.TV during an interview on Friday.

“There are perfectly good reasons to have this [question] — it had been done before," he added.

The last time the citizenship question was included on the U.S. census and sent to all households was in 1950.

Trump announced on Thursday that he would drop his bid to add the question on the 2020 census after facing multiple legal hurdles, including statutory deadlines that could not be altered and what the Supreme Court deemed a "contrived" rationale for including the controversial query.

The administration had said the question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, though opponents argued it was designed to discourage participation by minority groups as a way to benefit Republicans in redistricting.

Trump said his administration will instead require federal agencies to provide the Commerce Department information on citizens and non-citizens in the U.S.

At a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said he believes the new process will provide a more accurate count.

“We must have a reliable count of how many citizens, non-citizens and illegal aliens are in our country,” Trump said, adding that his administration will leave “no stone unturned.”

Kelley told Hill.TV that he was surprised by Trump’s decision, saying he initially expected the president to follow through on his threat to sign an executive order forcing the inclusion of the citizenship question following the Supreme Court’s ruling against the addition in late June.

“Everybody expected an executive order that was going to impose the citizenship question irrespective of the Supreme Court — I didn’t see a chance in the world that it would sustain,” Kelley said, adding that it was "a pretty smart move."

Many demographers and analysts, including those inside the Commerce Department, voiced concerns over the citizenship question, saying such a question could potentially reduce response rates from immigrant and minority communities.

The Constitution mandates a census every 10 years. The decennial survey is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House and helps determine how billions of dollars in federal funds are distributed to states and local communities.

—Tess Bonn