Eric Holder, California to Sue Trump Admin Over Reinstating Citizenship Question to Census

The Trump administration announced Monday night it will be reinstating a citizenship question to the decennial census in 2020, prompting threats of lawsuits by prominent Democrats.

Former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra separately announced they will file respective lawsuits to stop the citizenship question from being asked during the census.

Eric Holder.

Xavier Becerra.

Holder’s statement called the move by the Trump administration a “direct attack on our representative democracy.”

Becerra called the decision, “illegal.”

The Commerce Department, which oversees the census, issued a statement announcing the decision:

Today, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that a question on citizenship status will be reinstated to the 2020 decennial census questionnaire to help enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Secretary Ross’s decision follows a request by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to add a question on citizenship status to the 2020 decennial census.

Please click HERE to view the memorandum directing the Census Bureau to reinstate a question on citizenship to the 2020 decennial census.

The citizenship question will be the same as the one that is asked on the yearly American Community Survey (ACS). Citizenship questions have also been included on prior decennial censuses. Between 1820 and 1950, almost every decennial census asked a question on citizenship in some form. Today, surveys of sample populations, such as the Current Population Survey and the ACS, continue to ask a question on citizenship.

On December 12, 2017, DOJ requested that the Census Bureau reinstate a citizenship question on the decennial census to provide census block level citizenship voting age population (CVAP) data that is not currently available from government surveys. DOJ and the courts use CVAP data for the enforcement of Section 2 of the VRA, which protects minority voting rights.

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.

Congress delegated to the Secretary of Commerce the authority to determine questions to be asked on the decennial census. The Census Act requires the list of decennial census questions be submitted to Congress no later than March 31, 2018.

Following receipt of the DOJ request, the Department of Commerce immediately initiated a comprehensive review process led by the Census Bureau, prioritizing the goal of obtaining complete and accurate data.

After a thorough review of the legal, program, and policy considerations, as well as numerous discussions with Census Bureau leadership, Members of Congress, and interested stakeholders, Secretary Ross has determined that reinstatement of a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire is necessary to provide complete and accurate census block level data.”

Holder’s statement was issued early Tuesday morning by the group he chairs, National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

Washington, D.C. — Today, Eric H. Holder, Jr., 82nd Attorney General of the United States and Chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), released the following statement on the Commerce Department’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

“We will litigate to stop the Administration from moving forward with this irresponsible decision. The addition of a citizenship question to the census questionnaire is a direct attack on our representative democracy. This question will lower the response rate and undermine the accuracy of the count, leading to devastating, decade-long impacts on voting rights and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funding. By asking this question, states will not have accurate representation and individuals in impacted communities will lose out on state and federal funding for health care, education, and infrastructure.

“Contrary to the Administration’s stated rationale, asking the citizenship question on the census is not critical to enforcing the Voting Rights Act. As attorney general, I did not—nor did my predecessors—request the addition of a citizenship question to the decennial census to enforce the VRA. We did not need to: Data derived from the existing census process was perfectly adequate for any voting litigation that arose.

“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.”

Holder also posted to Twitter saying, “Constitution does not require citizenship question. This is purely political. Trump Administration is trying to rig the 2020 Census (to protect gerrymandering) by intimidating people. Don’t be fooled-some states will unfairly lose funds and representation. We will sue.”

Becerra posted a statement to Twitter and linked to an op-ed he co-authored with California Secretary of State Alex Padilla published Monday in the San Francisco Chronicle, “#BREAKING: Filing suit against @realdonaldtrump’s Administration over decision to add #citizenship question on #2020Census. Including the question is not just a bad idea — it is illegal:”

Excerpt from Becerra’s op-ed:

The Trump administration is threatening to derail the integrity of the census by seeking to add a question relating to citizenship to the 2020 census questionnaire. Innocuous at first blush, its effect would be truly insidious. It would discourage noncitizens and their citizen family members from responding to the census, resulting in a less accurate population count.

Including a citizenship question on the 2020 census is not just a bad idea — it is illegal.

The Constitution requires the government to conduct an “actual enumeration” of the total population, regardless of citizenship status. And since 1790, the census has counted citizens and noncitizens alike.

The census has a specific constitutional purpose: to provide an accurate count of all residents, which then allows for proper allotment of congressional representatives to the states. The Census Bureau has a long history of working to ensure the most accurate count of the U.S. population in a nonpartisan manner, based on scientific principles.

…This request is an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes. Since the first day of his presidential campaign and through his first year in office, President Trump has targeted immigrants: vilifying them and attempting to exclude them from the country. Think travel bans, repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, ramped up Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that tear parents away from their children. Immigrants and their loved ones understandably are, and will be, concerned about how data collected in the 2020 Census will be used.

California, with its large immigrant communities, would be disproportionately harmed by depressed participation in the 2020 census. An undercount would threaten at least one of California’s seats in the House of Representatives (and, by extension, an elector in the electoral college.) It would deprive California and its cities and counties of their fair share of billions of dollars in federal funds.”

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