California, NY sue Trump administration over addition of citizenship question to census

Critics argue that the citizenship question may intimidate immigrants. I say that's the point, to intimidate and make immigrants feel unwelcomed.

The state of California sued the Trump administration Monday night, arguing that the decision to add a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census violates the U.S. Constitution. The state’s attorney general acted just after the Commerce Department announced the change in a late-night release.

The action was followed Tuesday by an announcement from New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman that he will lead a multi-state lawsuit to preserve what he said was a fair and accurate Census.

The suits are just the start of what is likely to be a broader battle with enormous political stakes that pits the administration against many Democratic states, which believe that the citizenship question will reduce the response rate for the census and produce undercounts. As a result, opponents say, states with significant immigrant populations stand to lose seats in state legislatures and Congress, along with electoral college votes in presidential elections and federal funding based on census counts.

Republicans gained a significant advantage in redrawing maps after the 2010 Census, as The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake has reported. Democrats worry about a repeat.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was among several Democrats who vowed to challenge the addition of the question.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said, among other things, that the data could help identify potential voting-rights violations by providing more accurate information than currently available about the proportion of a congressional district’s population that is eligible to vote by virtue of holding citizenship. Information about citizenship currently comes from a survey that samples a small percentage of the population.

In raw political terms, it has been estimated that an undercount feared by Democrats could cost California at least one seat in the House of Representatives and, on the national level, shift political power from cities to more rural communities with the benefits falling to the Republican Party, as The Post’s Michael Scherer has written. 

The administration’s plans were not a surprise. ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization, disclosed in December that the Justice Department had asked the Census Bureau to make the change. And some Republicans in Congress tried to force a similar change for the 2010 census.

The Constitution requires a census, or “actual enumeration,” every 10 years to apportion representation in Congress. Apportionment is based on the “number of free persons” in each state. California’s lawsuit alleges the change violates the constitutional requirement of “actual Enumeration” of every person in every state, every 10 years.

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