Washington, D.C. – A federal court today rejected the Trump Administration’s request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by civil rights organizations that challenges the addition of a citizenship question to Census 2020 on the grounds that it is discriminatory and motivated by racial animus.
U.S. District Court Judge George J. Hazel’s ruling will allow the lawsuit filed by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) to move forward to trial.
The suit, filed in May, is the first to include a claim that Trump administration officials and others conspired to deprive immigrants and minorities of their constitutional rights to equal representation and fair allocation of federal funds by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The suit names Donald J. Trump, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, then-White House advisor Stephen Bannon and then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as co-conspirators whose intent in adding the citizenship question was to severely undercount Latinos, Asian Americans, Native American groups, immigrants and other populations .
“Secretary Ross misrepresented his motives, engaged the Department of Justice to provide him with pretextual justifications, and presented the final decision to Congress as if truth no longer matters,” said Denise Hulett, national senior counsel at MALDEF. “Today the court affirmed that the truth of the Administrations’ conspiratorial motives does in fact matter. Judge Hazel’s order affirms that the decision to include a census question designed to evoke fear and erase whole segments of our community will be carefully examined by the judicial branch of our government.”
According to civil rights attorneys for both organizations, which amended the complaint in July 2018, the lawsuit provides a detailed scope of the politically-motivated and untenable decision to add the unnecessary citizenship question.
“The government is trying to shirk its constitutional responsibility to count every person living in the U.S. and we will not stand for it,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “The census mandates that all persons are counted, regardless of immigration status. We look forward to our day in court to make sure this unnecessary question is removed from the 2020 Census.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on behalf of Latino and Asian American individuals, social service non-profits, state legislative associations, civil rights groups, voters’ rights organizations, and community partnerships that would be forced to divert resources to combat a potential severe undercount in their respective communities.
The Census Bureau eliminated a question on citizenship from the decennial form after the 1950 Census. It has only appeared since then in questionnaires sent to a small sample of the national population. Late last year, however, the U.S. Department of Justice abruptly requested the addition of a citizenship question to the Census, arguing it was necessary to help it enforce the federal Voting Rights Act, despite no showing that the data is necessary. Since the announcement by Secretary Ross to add the citizenship questions, documents have shown, that in fact, the Department of Commerce worked with the Department of Justice to request adding the citizenship question.
Census data are crucial to allocating seats in Congress, drawing accurate election districts and ensuring equitable distribution of federal funds for a wide range of vital programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Section 8 housing vouchers, transportation funds, and special education grants. An undercount in the decennial census will affect all of these programs.