Civil Rights Organizations Contest Finding of Non-Discrimination in Maryland Census Ruling

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Michelle Boykins: 202-296-2300 x. 0144 

Sandra Hernandez: (213) 629-2512 x. 129

April 16, 2019

Civil Rights Organizations Contest Finding of Non-Discrimination in Maryland Census Ruling 

Washington, D.C. – Civil rights groups filed a notice of cross-appeal today in their lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.  The filing follows an appeal by the Trump administration of the ruling against the citizenship question.

A federal court in Maryland ruled in April that the addition of the citizenship question violates the Administrative Procedures Act and the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution, but fell short of ruling that the White House purposefully sought to exclude non-citizens, particularly immigrants of color, from the decennial Census in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  The Trump administration recently appealed the court’s order prohibiting the addition of the citizenship question to the Census. 

Attorneys with MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) filed a cross-appeal on the sole question of whether the Administration’s motive for the question was racially discriminatory. 

“The American people have the right to know when their government engages in unconstitutional discrimination, particularly when it does so in order to undermine the Census,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “Wilbur Ross should long ago have resigned in disgrace; the evidence and court findings in this case plainly demonstrate that he engaged in despicable and unlawful racial discrimination.”

MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC filed the notice in the U.S. District Court in Maryland; the Trump administration appeal and the plaintiffs’ cross-appeal will be considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

“The court recognized the racial discrimination that immigrants have faced from this president and this administration, including the actions taken by Secretary Wilbur Ross,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “Secretary Wilbur Ross blatantly disregarded the advice from experts within his department, former census directors, and experts from leading organizations — including Advancing Justice | AAJC — who advised him against adding the citizenship question because it would result in less participation from immigrants, non-citizens, and communities of color.  The evidence shows a pattern and clear intent by Secretary Ross to carry out the racial animus designs of this administration.”

U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel’s ruling found that President Trump and Kris Kobach “harbored discriminatory animus towards non-citizens,” and that at the urging of Trump advisors “the Secretary considered the impact of counting illegal immigrants in the Census.”   But the court concluded that although the Secretary’s stated rationale was pure pretext, ultimately “Secretary Ross’s original rationale remains, to some extent, a mystery.”

Attorneys with MALDEF and Advancing Justice |AAJC contend that the Court erred because its own findings of fact as a matter of law compel the conclusion that the Administration engaged in intentional discrimination. 

“Supreme Court law recognizes that legislators and administrators rarely, if ever, admit racially discriminatory motives, and that they, like Secretary Ross, hide behind executive and legislative privilege,” said Denise Hulett, national senior counsel at MALDEF.  “A finding of governmental intentional discrimination therefore properly rests on evidence of the kind that the District Court already found.  That evidence places the gun in Secretary Ross’s hand, identifies the discriminatory sources of the bullets, and describes the smoke that will obscure and distort the census count.”

MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC sued Trump administration last May. The lawsuit, LUPE v. Ross, was later consolidated with Kravitz v. U.S. Department of Commerce, another challenge to the citizenship question filed with the Maryland court.

Attorneys for both groups represent Latino and Asian American individuals, Native Americans, 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.

“More than 90% of Asian Americans are either immigrants or children of immigrants, so the proposed citizenship question has significant relevance to our community,” said Niyati Shah, assistant director of legal advocacy for Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “It should not be a surprise that the Census Bureau staff repeatedly advised Secretary Wilbur Ross that a citizenship question would cause harm to non-citizens and historically hard-to-count populations, including the Asian American community. We hope that the fourth circuit will vindicate the rights of our communities and agree that racial animus played a role in the administration’s attempt to add this question.”

Two other courts in New York and California have also moved to block the addition of a citizenship question because it violates the APA and Enumeration Clause. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted review of the New York case, and has scheduled oral argument for April 23.

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 such as 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.

Read the notice to appeal HERE.

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