Filing suit Tuesday to keep citizenship status out of the 2020 U.S. census, a broad coalition of attorneys general and politicians denounced the Trump administration’s tweak of the survey as a bigoted power grab.
“Decade after decade, census officials have said that simply asking about citizenship status will create a climate of fear and mistrust,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at a lower Manhattan press conference this morning.
As noted in a 54-page complaint, the decennial U.S. census has not delved into citizenship since 1950.
Acting upon orders from the Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced last month that it will bring the question back for 2020.
Though the move prompted a lawsuit that night from California, Schneiderman’s effort represents a coalition of 18 fellow attorneys general, six cities and a bipartisan U.S. conference of mayors.
“One of the federal government’s most solemn obligations is a fair and accurate count of all people in the country, citizen and non-citizen alike,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
“For decades, administrations from both parties have treated this constitutional requirement with the respect and reverence it deserves,” he continued. “Now, the Trump administration is breaking with that tradition – recklessly abandoning nearly 70 years of practice by demanding to know the citizenship status of each resident counted.”
Quoting the federal government’s own research, the complaint states: “This decision will ‘inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count’ by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities, because of concerns about how the federal government will use citizenship information.”
“These concerns have been amplified by the anti-immigrant policies, actions, and rhetoric targeting immigrant communities from President Trump and this administration,” it continues.
Steven Choi, the director of the New York Immigration Coalition, noted that an undercount would do more than reduce the state’s share of the $700 billion in federal funds at stake.
“There’s something more important than the power of money, and it’s the power of our ballots,” he told the crowd.
For Schneiderman and those who shared the stage with him, the Trump administration’s motivation for the reversal was transparently political.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that the citizenship question would help federal prosecutors enforce the Voting Right Act, but Schneiderman noted that the anti-immigration hawk has not prosecuted one case under that statute.
Introduced by her nickname La Luchadora (The Fighter), Rep. Nydia Velasquez, D-N.Y., referenced Trump’s campaign slogan in denouncing the question as a “blatant, racist attempt to ‘Make America White.’”
Rather than invoking federal anti-discrimination law, however, the three-count complaint charges the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Bureau of the Census and their leaders with violating the Constitution’s enumeration clause and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The latter statute prohibits federal agencies from making arbitrary policy changes without public input.
“Decisions to change questions on the decennial census typically take several years to test, evaluate, and implement; but defendants’ decision here was compressed into a hasty and unprecedented period of less than four months,” the complaint states.
One of Trump’s most frequent courtroom adversaries, Schneiderman has gone toe-to-toe against the president before in opposing the travel ban and shuttering the immigration initiative Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“Courts have found that this administration has an anti-immigrant animus,” Schneiderman said at today’s rally, alluding to these cases.
Other attorneys general joining today’s lawsuit hail from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.
The cities of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco and Seattle are also plaintiffs, as is the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The Census Bureau referred a telephone inquiry to the Commerce Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for the Commerce Department declined to give an on-the-record comment on the lawsuit.