By Michael Wines, The New York Times

When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ordered the Census Bureau to attach a question on citizenship to the 2020 census, the first argument he used to back up his decision was also the simplest: We’ve always asked. The question has been “a longstanding historical practice,” he wrote, “asked in some form or another for nearly 200 years.”

But the lineage of the citizenship question is more complicated than that. And all along, it has been tied up with bitter partisan fights over the racial makeup of the country and the distribution of political power.

President Trump threw in the towel Thursday on his legal fight to add a citizenship question to the census, but not on his quest to distinguish citizens from noncitizens in the nation’s population figures, which he said would be done using various databases the government already has. “We’ll leave no stone unturned,” he said.

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Photo: U.S. Census Bureau

The Census Bureau Has a Long, Complicated History of Asking Americans Whether They Are Citizens