Justice Department lawyers told a federal judge on Friday that they would press ahead in their efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but indicated they did not know yet what kind of rationale they would put forward.
The assertion capped a chaotic week in which administration officials first promised to abide by a Supreme Court order that effectively blocked the question from next year’s head count, then reversed themselves after President Trump denounced their statements on Twitter as “fake news” and pledged to restore the question.
Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday morning that he was considering issuing an executive order adding the question to the census, one of four or five options that had been presented to him.
Government lawyers have been scrambling since Mr. Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to find a way to restore the citizenship question while obeying the Supreme Court’s order. The justices ruled last week that the administration’s rationale for the question was “contrived,” and said that it could be added to census questionnaires only if officials could offer an acceptable explanation of why it was needed.
That rationale has been the central issue in the battle over the question, which has morphed from a legal confrontation in four federal courts to a fierce partisan struggle with potentially huge implications for national and local politics alike. Census figures determine how the government allots hundreds of billions of federal dollars for programs that impact the entire nation, citizens and noncitizens alike.