Trump Administration’s Citizenship Question on 2020 Census Blocked by Federal Judge
A federal judge in San Francisco has blocked a Trump administration move to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census, calling the proposal “arbitrary and capricious” and saying it would harm the state of California and be “contrary to the Constitution.”
In a ruling released Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had failed to justify his decision to include a citizenship question in the upcoming census.
The judge said such a question would ultimately hamper the department’s constitutional mandate to conduct an accurate count of the nation’s population by causing noncitizens to avoid enumeration, adding that the question “threatens the very foundation of our democratic system.” The count occurs every 10 years.
“A significant differential undercount, particularly impacting noncitizen and Latino communities, will result from the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census,” Seeborg wrote.
An inaccurate count would be particularly hard on California, the judge said, as state population is used to calculate federal funding and congressional district boundaries.
“The State of California demonstrated that it will suffer a loss of federal funding and face a substantial risk of losing political representation directly traceable to the inclusion of the citizenship question on the census,” the judge wrote.
The commerce secretary announced last year that he would add the citizenship question in order to “provide complete and accurate data” for the census. Ross said he chose to add the question because the Justice Department said it needed the citizenship data to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
However, in his ruling, Seeborg wrote that Ross’ reliance on Voting Rights Act enforcement to justify inclusion of the citizenship question was “mere pretext and the definition of an arbitrary and capricious governmental act.” Even though a citizenship question had been included in the decennial census in 1950 and before, Seeborg wrote that its inclusion now — amid the national debate over immigration — would interfere with the actual count.
Political scientists predicted in court testimony that California would lose billions in federal funds plus at least one and possibly as many as three seats in the House — and the same number of electoral votes — if the citizenship question were to be used next year.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who spearheaded the lawsuit, called the ruling “a great victory, not only for California but for all people who are in the United States of America who deserve to be counted when the next census occurs.”
“No state is more affected by the census than California,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Because we have the largest population, because we send more tax money to the federal treasury than any state in the nation, because we have the most delegates.”
Plaintiffs in the matter included the state of California, Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and the California cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Fremont, Stockton and San Jose.
A 2018 analysis by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California measured the potential for miscount in individual census tracts, small geographic areas used to more accurately calculate a state’s population. In some of those tracts, researchers estimated as many as 45 percent of residents might not respond.
Monterey, Los Angeles and Imperial counties, home to the highest, second-highest and fourth-highest percentages of noncitizens in the state, would be most likely to undercount residents, according to the study.
Seeborg is the second judge to bar the addition of a citizenship question.
A federal judge in New York had previously blocked the administration from adding the question, and the U.S. Supreme Court last month agreed to review that decision.
Becerra said California is prepared to write a friend of the court brief for the Supreme Court case that would not only support the New York ruling, but also buttress claims that the question shouldn’t be allowed on constitutional grounds.
Times staff writers Monte Morin and David G. Savage contributed to this report.
©2019 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
In The News
WASHINGTON — The first primary in the 2020 presidential race is a little more than 250 days away, but lawmakers and experts worry that elections will be held on voting machines that are woefully outdated and that any tampering by adversaries could lead to disputed results.... Read More
WASHINGTON — In Utah, marijuana revved up voter interest last year, and new election policies made it easier for people to cast their ballots, leading to the nation’s biggest jump in midterm turnout. Around the country, state efforts to widen ballot access and Trump-era political passion... Read More
WASHINGTON — California’s population is growing more slowly than expected, making it increasingly likely it will lose at least one congressional seat in 2020 — and maybe more. “Right now, the current numbers that are coming in look very much like California is on track to... Read More
The attorneys for both Ohio and Michigan asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to intervene and block lower court orders to rectify partisan gerrymanders. In Ohio, a three-judge panel ruled that the state's congressional district map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to perpetuate Republican power and disadvantage... Read More
WASHINGTON — The email from Dan McCready was telling. The North Carolina Democrat, who’s amassed more than $2.6 million for a redo election in the 9th District, was fundraising off a poll that showed state Sen. Dan Bishop leading the 10-person Republican field for next Tuesday’s... Read More
WASHINGTON — Tucked into the 448-page report from special counsel Robert Mueller were four paragraphs about major breaches into state and local election systems. Mueller’s description of Russian interference designed to help the Trump campaign was a reminder of how far many state and local officials... Read More