Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Attorney General TJ Donovan Files Suit to Block Citizenship Question in 2020 Census

April 3, 2018

Contact: Natalie Silver, 802 595 8679

AG Donovan Joins Coalition of 18 Attorneys General, 6 Mayors, and Bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors in Suit Filed Today

Today, Attorney General TJ Donovan—part of a coalition of 18 Attorneys General, six Mayors, and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors—filed a lawsuit to block the U.S. Department of Justice from requiring citizenship information in the 2020 decennial Census. Demanding citizenship information would depress Census turnout in states with large immigrant populations, directly threatening those states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College, as well as billions of dollars in critical federal funds for education, infrastructure, Medicaid, and more.

The U.S. Constitution requires the taking of a national Census every ten years to count “the whole number of persons in each state,” regardless of citizenship or other immigration status. Demanding citizenship information in the Census is expected to depress participation among immigrants, causing a population undercount that would disproportionately harm states and cities with large immigrant communities. All persons, including non-citizens, are 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.” 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.

The lawsuit was filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It argues that including the citizenship question will violate the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution by impeding an “actual Enumeration” of the population that is required by the Constitution. The lawsuit is also brought under the Administrative Procedure Act, which permits courts to set aside unlawful or arbitrary and capricious agency decisions.

The lawsuit is being led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and joined by the Attorneys General of Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia; the Mayors of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco, and Seattle; and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.

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 also emphasizes the irreparable harm that will result from inaccuracies in the 2020 Census caused by demanding citizenship information. Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds are directly tied to demographic information obtained through the Census, including the Highway Trust Fund and other Department of Transportation grants, Child Care Development Grants, and Medicaid. Consequently, inaccurate counts can potentially deprive states of much-needed funds designed to protect low-income and vulnerable communities.

The decennial Census is also used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives, and each plaintiff state relies on population information from the Census Bureau to draw statewide redistricting plans for their Congressional and state legislative districts. Demanding citizenship information would cause disproportionate undercounts in communities with immigrant populations and therefore prevent plaintiff states from fulfilling the one-person, one-vote constitutional requirement, as well as create distributional inaccuracies in the data states use to draw district lines.

In addition, the citizenship demand would depress Census participation within the states’ diverse immigrant and undocumented populations, leading to inaccurate responses and a significant undercount of the states’ residents. As a result, an under count of population in states that are home to large immigrant communities will impair fair representation, a principle fundamental to the fabric of our democracy.

The complaint as filed can be found here.

 

Last modified: April 3, 2018