Washington, D.C. – A federal court in Maryland today ruled the Trump administration cannot add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census because it violates the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.
In his 119-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge George J. Hazel wrote: “The unreasonableness of Defendants’ addition of a citizenship question to the Census is underscored by the lack of any genuine need for the citizenship question, the woefully deficient process that led to it, the mysterious and potentially improper political considerations that motivated the decision and the clear pretext offered to the public.”
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed last May by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) that challenged the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question. 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.
“The inclusion of the citizenship question in Census 2020 is patently illegitimate,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF. “Three judges, after extensive trials, have now concluded that Wilbur Ross added the question for wholly inappropriate reasons, and then lied to the public and Congress about his motivation. The federal government should immediately remove this tainted question from Census 2020.”
The ruling comes after federal courts in New York and California had already moved to block the addition of a citizenship question. The U.S. Supreme Court will review the New York case, and has scheduled oral argument for April 23.
“Our communities count and the judge clearly recognized that the sham process pursued by Secretary Ross threatened to make our communities invisible,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “Three judges have decided what we have known all along, the addition of the citizenship question is illegal, unnecessary, and undermines the U.S. Constitution.”
“This ruling affirms that even this administration is bound by federal law to protect the rights of individuals to be treated equally under the law, regardless of race or national origin, and that the Constitution’s mandate to count the total number of persons means exactly what it says – count every person without manipulation or obstruction,” said Denise Hulett, national senior counsel and lead attorney for MALDEF.
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 like 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.
“From the moment Secretary Wilbur Ross formally ordered the citizenship question be added to the census form, we vowed to fight for a fair an accurate census on behalf of the Asian American and immigrant communities and we will not stop now,” said Niyati Shah, assistant director of legal advocacy for Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold the findings of three different lower court judges.”
In the lawsuit, MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC 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.
As this issue moves toward the Supreme Court, Congress can still enact legislation to remove the citizenship question. An undercount in the decennial census will affect all of these programs and will harm all communities.