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Supreme Court Decision – CENSUS

5-4 decision on June 27, 2019 – In Department of Commerce v New York, the court sent back to a lower court a case on whether the census should contain a citizenship question, leaving in doubt whether the question will be on the 2020 census.

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Citizenship Question Blocked on Census

Court Blocks Trump Administration From Asking About Citizenship in Census

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr., center, ordered the Census Bureau to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.CreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

New York Times

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in New York blocked the Commerce Department on Tuesday from adding a question on American citizenship to the 2020 census, handing a legal victory to critics who accused the Trump administration of trying to turn the census into a tool to advance Republican political fortunes.

The ruling marks the opening round in a legal battle with potentially profound ramifications for federal policy and for politics at all levels, one that seems certain to reach the Supreme Court before the printing of census forms begins this summer.

A broad coalition of advocacy groups and state and local officials had argued that the citizenship question was effectively forced into the census under false pretenses, in violation of laws enacted to ensure that federal policies heed the public interest.

[Inside the Trump administration’s fight to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census]

At first blush, the central question of the lawsuit — whether the 2020 census should ask respondents if they are citizens — seems mundane enough. A similar question was asked in most federal censuses before 1960, and it is still asked by the Census Bureau in the American Community Survey, which samples about 2.6 percent of the population each year.

But opponents argued that adding the question to the census itself would undermine the constitutional mandate to count every person, regardless of citizenship, because it would discourage noncitizens from filling out the questionnaire for fear of persecution. That was especially true, they said, in light of the Trump administration’s open hostility toward some immigrant groups and its campaign to round up and deport undocumented residents.

Roughly 24 million noncitizens live in the United States, and fewer than 11 million of them do so illegally. Nearly one in 10 households includes at least one noncitizen. A substantial reduction in the number of households that respond to the census could alter the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grants and subsidies.

Because the census is also a statistical baseline for business and government decisions, an undercount could skew countless decisions on matters like where to locate new stores or where to open or close medical clinics.

Total population figures will be used to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives in 2021, so the contours of Congress, the Electoral College and thousands of state and local political districts could be affected. Because noncitizens tend to live in places that disproportionately vote Democratic, undercounting them in the census would be likely to shift federal spending and political power to Republican areas.

Some of the six lawsuits to block the addition of the question, filed by advocacy groups and public officials in California, Maryland and New York, argue that such a shift is the real motive for the Commerce Department’s decision.

The official explanation from Wilbur L. Ross Jr., the commerce secretary, was that he was responding to a request the previous December by the Justice Department, which stated that census data on citizenship would help it better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Commerce Department oversees the Census Bureau.

Under court scrutiny, Mr. Ross’s argument turned out to be incomplete. As Mr. Ross later acknowledged in another memorandum, he had begun considering the issue within days of becoming Commerce secretary in February 2017. Internal documents made public in the lawsuit showed that Justice Department officials had not asked for a citizenship question, and had rejected an initial plea from the Commerce Department to do so. Only after a monthslong campaign, capped by a telephone call by Mr. Ross to the attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, did the Justice officials assent.

In sworn testimony, the department’s senior civil-rights official conceded that census data was not necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, and that citizenship information from the American Community Survey and its predecessor had been used for more than five decades without difficulty.

The Census Bureau itself had recommended against adding a citizenship question, estimating in an analysis in January that at least 630,000 households would refuse to fill out the 2020 questionnaire if such a question were included. Adding a citizenship question “is very costly, harms the quality of the census count, and would use substantially less accurate citizenship status data than are available from administrative sources,” the bureau’s chief scientist, John M. Abowd, wrote in a memo to Mr. Ross.

Government lawyers argued repeatedly during the trial that none of that mattered, because Mr. Ross had broad leeway in making his decision. That statistical experts disagreed with Mr. Ross “is immaterial to this case,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brett A. Shumate told the court. “All the secretary is required to do is to provide a reasoned explanation,” he said. “He doesn’t have to choose the best option.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said Mr. Ross’s decision was not based on the merits, but was clearly tailored to his personal views. Mr. Shumate disagreed. While “it was evident that he had a policy preference” toward adding a citizenship question, Mr. Shumate argued, Mr. Ross had sought a range of advice and had acted only after the Justice Department established a need.

“Where’s the evidence that Secretary Ross would have plowed ahead had he not had the D.O.J. letter” requesting a citizenship question, he asked. “There is none.”

Census and Citizenship Question

California sues over Census citizenship question

(CNN) — Progressives, states and civil rights advocates are preparing a flurry of legal challenges to the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the next census, saying the move will penalize immigrants and threaten civil rights.

The late Monday move from the Commerce Department, which it said came in response a request by the Justice Department, would restore a question about citizenship that has not appeared on the census since the 1950s. The administration said the data was necessary to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The state of California immediately challenged the plan in federal court.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla trashed the move as anti-immigrant.

“The citizenship question is the latest attempt by President Trump to stoke the fires of anti-immigrant hostility,” Padilla said in a statement. “Now, in one fell swoop, the US Commerce Department has ignored its own protocols and years of preparation in a concerted effort to suppress a fair and accurate census count from our diverse communities. The administration’s claim that it is simply seeking to protect voting rights is not only laughable, but contemptible.”

Former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder also blasted the move and said his organization, which focuses on voting enfranchisement and redistricting, would also pursue litigation against what he called an “irresponsible decision.”

Holder said contrary to the rationale presented by the Justice Department, he and other modern-era attorneys general were “perfectly” able to handle those legal matters without such a question on the Census.

“The addition of a citizenship question to the census questionnaire is a direct attack on our representative democracy,” Holder said in a statement. “Make no mistake — this decision is motivated purely by politics. In deciding to add this question without even testing its effects, the administration is departing from decades of census policy and ignoring the warnings of census experts.”

Critics of the move say that including such a question on a government survey will scare non-citizens and vulnerable immigrant communities into under-reporting. By undercounting these populations, they argue, there will be a major impact that follows on voting and federal funds.

Because the once-a-decade census is used to determine congressional and political districts and to dole out federal resources, an undercount in heavily immigrant areas could substantially impact certain states and major cities and potentially their representation at the federal level.

The question has not been on the full census since the 1950s, but does appear on the yearly American Community Survey administered by the Census Bureau to give a fuller picture of life in America and the population.

The Commerce Department said the decision came after a “thorough review” of the request from the Justice Department. The priority, Commerce said, was “obtaining complete and accurate data.”

“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 statement said.

Becerra and his state have been central to virtually every legal challenge of the Trump administration on issues ranging from immigration, to the environment, to health care. The Justice Department has also sued California over its so-called sanctuary policies to protect immigrants.

More challenges could soon follow.

Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, a nonprofit that works on issues of justice and civil rights, said the question had no place in the Census.

“Our Constitution requires a complete and accurate count of everyone living in the country, no matter her or his citizenship status. The administration’s decision to add a citizenship question is at best a dramatic misstep, and at worst a politically-motivated move that will undermine a fair and accurate census,” Weiser said. “This question is a dangerous move that could lead to a serious skewing of the final census results, which would have a deleterious effect on our system of representative democracy. We urge the administration to reconsider.”

Credit: CNN