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"Is this person a citizen of the United States?" This is the controversial question the Trump administration will defend adding to the 2020 census questionnaire in a closely watched federal trial starting Monday in New York City.

Why it matters: This could determine the electoral map for future state legislative races and federal elections. Census data is used to apportion congressional seats and electoral college votes that determine the winner of presidential elections, as well as the distribution of federal funds among states.

Key arguments: The question has not been asked on the nation's standard census form since 1950. Amid brewing anti-immigration sentiments, critics said adding the question could produce an undercount because undocumented immigrants would refuse to participate in the decennial survey out of fear of being deported. As a result, the political power of heavily Democratic states with large immigrant communities would be diluted.

  • The administration argues that the question is not discriminatory, and that it would provide citizenship data for the Justice Department to better enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which aims to prevent voting rights violations.
  • But John Gore, the acting head of the DOJ's civil rights division, said in his deposition released late Sunday that the question is "not necessary" for enforcing the VRA.

The backdrop: For months, plaintiffs in the suit — 18 states, several cities and immigrant groups — and DOJ attorneys have been fighting over the disclosure of internal government documents and emails that show how the administration reached its decision.

  • Most notably, disclosed records contradicted Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who told lawmakers in sworn testimony to Congress earlier this year that the DOJ “initiated the request for inclusion of the citizenship question” in December 2017. In fact, internal documents show that administration officials, including former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, had begun pushing for the question just months after taking office.
  • In March, when Ross announced he will add the question, he had downplayed concerns that it could lower the response rate. But in a January memo, the Census Bureau's chief scientist John Abowd warned it could produce "substantially less accurate citizenship status data."

The big picture: The case, one of six challenging the legality of Ross' decision, could be appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court. The high court has already intervened in the suit: The justices blocked a lower court’s ruling last month for Ross to sit for a deposition and answer questions under oath, and on Friday, they rejected the administration's request to delay the trail.

Go deeper

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.

Bush labels Clyburn the “savior” for Democrats

House Majority Whip James Clyburn takes a selfie Wednesday with former President George W. Bush. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush credited Rep. James Clyburn with being the "savior" of the Democratic Party, telling the South Carolinian at Wednesday's inauguration his endorsement allowed Joe Biden to win the party's presidential nomination.

Why it matters: The nation's last two-term Republican president also said Clyburn's nod allowed for the transfer of power, because he felt only Biden had the ability to unseat President Trump.