Addition of Citizenship Question to Census Heading to the Courts

(AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)

WASHINGTON — The Commerce Department announced that a citizenship question would be added to the 2020 Census, a move that some members of Congress tried to block with legislation.

One state has already moved forward to block it in the courts.

In a Dec. 12 letter, a Justice Department official asked Acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin to reinstate a citizenship question on the survey. Justice Management Division General Counsel Arthur E. Gary called the data provided by the question, which used to be on the long-form Census questionnaire until 2000, “critical to the Department’s enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and its important protections against racial discrimination in voting.”

“To fully enforce those requirements, the Department needs a reliable calculation of the citizen voting-age population in localities where voting rights violations are alleged or suspected,” Gary wrote.

Instead of the long-form Census questionnaire going to about one in six households, the 2010 Census sent the American Community Survey, which included a citizenship question, to about one in 38 households.

“The Department formally requests that the Census Bureau reinstate into the 2020 Census a question regarding citizenship. We also request that the Census Bureau release this new data regarding citizenship at the same time as it releases the other redistricting data, by April 1 following the 2020 Census,” Gary wrote. “At the same time, the Department requests that the Bureau also maintain the citizenship question on the ACS.”

The Commerce Department said the Census question will be the same as the one asked on the ACS.

“Having citizenship data at the census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the VRA, and Secretary Ross determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government purpose outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts,” the department said Monday.

Saturday is the deadline for Census questions to be submitted to Congress.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) had sent the Commerce Department a letter asking that the question be added.

“Counting the number of U.S. citizens in the country should be a high priority of the census, and the only way to get an accurate count is to add a question about citizenship to the census itself,” argued Cotton.

“Let’s call this like it is: the Census, written about and hallowed in the Constitution, is being distorted by this administration for political purposes,” declared Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “President Trump and Secretary Ross should be ashamed of themselves. Hopefully the courts will correct this glaring abuse.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the administration is “undermining the fair distribution of funding and inviting an inaccurate count” by trying to discourage immigrant communities from participating.

“Everyone counts in the Census, and any effort that undermines that is not in America’s best interest,” Hoyer added. “Congress ought to take steps to overturn the Trump administration’s effort to subvert the Census.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the addition of the question, arguing it violates Article I, section 2 of the Constitution, which requires the “actual Enumeration” of all people in each state every 10 years, and the Administrative Procedure Act’s prohibition against “arbitrary and capricious” agency action.

“An accurate census count sets in motion the services and benefits that shape the future of every Californian. The census constitutes the backbone for planning how and where our communities will invest taxpayer dollars,” Becerra said in a statement. “California simply has too much to lose to allow the Trump Administration to botch this important decennial obligation. What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to disrupt an accurate Census count.”