Group of 18 attorneys general, six cities challenge Trump administration
DES MOINES — Attorney General Tom Miller — part of a coalition of 18 attorneys general, six cities and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors — filed a lawsuit to block the Trump administration from demanding citizenship information in the 2020 decennial Census.
Demanding citizenship information would depress Census participation in communities with large immigrant populations, directly threatening billions of dollars in critical federal funds for education, infrastructure, Medicaid and more.
“We believe everyone should be counted. Adding a citizenship question would undermine participation and accuracy,” Miller said.
Under the Constitution, the Census Bureau has an obligation to determine “the whole number of persons in each state.” Yet demanding citizenship information in the Census is expected to depress participation among immigrants. Non-citizens are required to be counted in the Census for the purposes of federal funds, apportioning of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and the drawing of state and local districts.
In 1980, the Census Bureau rejected the addition of a citizenship question, saying, “Any effort to ascertain citizenship will inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count. Obtaining the cooperation of a suspicious and fearful population would be impossible if the group being counted perceived any possibility of the information being used against them. Questions as to citizenship are particularly sensitive in minority communities and would inevitably trigger hostility, resentment, and refusal to cooperate.”
On December 12, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau demand citizenship information in the 2020 census form sent to every household in the United States, even though the Census is supposed to count all persons — citizens and non-citizens alike. The Department of Justice argued that the collection of such information was necessary to ensure proper enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Yet as a coalition of attorneys general argued in a letter sent to the commerce secretary in February, the demand would have precisely the opposite effect by driving down participation in immigrant communities — a concern that is even more acute in today’s political climate. The resulting undercount would deprive immigrant communities of fair representation when legislative seats are apportioned and district lines are drawn.
The lawsuit filed today is brought under the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as this action by the Trump administration will impede an “actual Enumeration” required by the Constitution. It is also brought under the Administrative Procedure Act, which permits courts to set aside unlawful or arbitrary and capricious agency decisions.
As the Census Bureau’s own research shows, the decision to demand citizenship information will “inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count” by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities, because of concerns about how the federal government will use citizenship information. These concerns are amplified by President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and pattern of actions that target immigrant communities.
In 2009, all eight former directors of the Census Bureau dating back to 1979 — who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents — affirmed that a citizenship question would depress participation and lead to a significant undercount, undermining the purpose of the Census itself.
As today’s lawsuit describes, the administration’s decision is inconsistent with the Census Bureau’s constitutional and statutory obligations, is unsupported by the stated justification, departs from decades of settled practice without reasoned explanation, and fails to consider the availability of alternative data that can effectively serve the federal government’s needs.
The lawsuit, which was filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, was joined by the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia; the cities of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco and Seattle; and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.