Attorney General Wins Suit to Block Trump Administration from Demanding Citizenship Information in 2020 U.S. Census

Attorney General Josh Shapiro and a coalition of 17 other Attorneys General, six Mayors, including the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors won a federal court order to block the Trump Administration and Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from demanding citizenship information in the 2020 decennial census.

The coalition argued that demanding citizenship information would depress census turnout in states with large legal immigrant populations, directly threatening those states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College, as well as billions of dollars in critical federal funds for education, infrastructure, Medicaid, and more.

A judge in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York vacated Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, calling it “unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons and [therefore it] must be set aside”. Further, the Court also stated that “to conclude otherwise and let Secretary Ross’s decision stand would undermine… what Congress itself has described as ‘one of the most critical constitutional functions our Federal Government performs’,” referring to the rule of law and the decennial census.

“A multitude of census experts, including all eight former bipartisan Directors of the Census Bureau, have stated that adding a citizenship question would depress turnout and undermine an accurate count,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “By adding this question, the results of the 2020 census would discriminate against communities with large immigrant populations, including Philadelphia and many cities in Pennsylvania. Today’s ruling is an important step to ensure Pennsylvania receives an accurate and lawful count and our Commonwealth receives the representation and federal resources we deserve.”

Attorney General Shapiro noted that non-citizens in the Philadelphia metro region pay approximately $6 billion in taxes each year, while receiving fewer benefits than citizen taxpayers. Immigrant-owned businesses accounted for 96 percent of Main Street business growth in Philadelphia between 2000 and 2013. Across Pennsylvania, 3.3 percent of the population are non-citizens, with the highest percentage residing in Avondale in Chester County – where non-citizens make up 36.5 percent of the population.

Under the Constitution, the Census Bureau has an obligation to determine “the whole number of persons in each state.” Yet demanding citizenship information in the Census would have depressed participation among immigrants, causing a population undercount that would disproportionately harm states and cities with large immigrant communities.

Non-citizens are counted in the Census for the purposes of federal funds, apportioning of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and the drawing of state and local districts. According to the Census Bureau, there are 132 federal programs allocated by Census data, totaling $675 billion per year.

In December 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau demand citizenship information in the 2020 Census form sent to every household in the United States, even though the Census is supposed to count all persons—citizens and non-citizens alike. The Department of Justice argued that the collection of such information was necessary to ensure proper enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

However, as a coalition of Attorneys General argued in a letter sent to the Commerce Secretary in February 2018, the demand would have precisely the opposite effect by driving down participation in immigrant communities — a concern that is even more acute in today’s political climate. The resulting undercount would deprive immigrant communities of fair representation when legislative seats are apportioned and district lines are drawn.

When the Department of Commerce moved to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census in March 2018, the coalition of Attorneys General and Mayors filed suit in April 2018 under the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as this action by the Trump administration will impede an “actual Enumeration” required by the Constitution, and the Administrative Procedure Act, which permits courts to set aside unlawful or arbitrary and capricious agency decisions.

As the Census Bureau’s own research shows, the decision to demand citizenship information 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 President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and pattern of actions that target immigrant communities.