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‘Are You A US Citizen?’ Census Question Lawsuit Moves to Trial

“Today’s ruling allows us to move forward in our fight to ensure a fair and accurate 2020 census.”

Last Friday, a judge ruled that a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration, claiming that the motive to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census is illegitimate, must go to trial in 2019. The census is required by the U.S. Constitution every ten years and mandates that all residents are counted regardless of citizenship status.

Although this will not be the first time that people are required to disclose their citizenship status on a U.S. census, it will be the first time since 1950 that everyone will be obligated to do so.

After U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in March that the new census would include a citizenship question, the state of California and six of its cities sued the Trump administration. Opponents of adding the citizenship question say that it could cause an “undercount of immigrants” and reduced electoral votes, federal funding and political representatives. California alone has more than 10 million immigrants.

Bench Trial Needed For Census Question

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg said in a 17-page order that a bench trial is needed to determine the integrity of statements made by several officials, including Ross, to decide whether Ross “had a valid basis for adding the citizenship question.”

Seeborg wrote in his ruling: “While plaintiffs present seemingly strong evidence of an ulterior motive, this question cannot be resolved without certain inferences and credibility determinations regarding statements in the record.”

The Census Bureau advocated against adding a citizenship question, saying that the results may be unreliable and that it could damage the accuracy of the count. The judge said that a trial is needed to examine claims that Ross ignored the bureau’s warning against adding the question.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Friday: “Today’s ruling allows us to move forward in our fight to ensure a fair and accurate 2020 census. President Trump’s unconstitutional decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census goes against the spirit and purpose of a nonpartisan census process.”

An amicus brief signed by four former census directors states, “Recent experience demonstrates lowered participation in the census and increased suspicion of government collection of information in general. Particular anxiety exists among non-citizens. There would be little incentive for non-citizens to offer to the government their actual status; the result would be a reduced rate of response overall and an increase in inaccurate responses. Both would frustrate the actual express obligation the Constitution imposes on the U.S. Census Bureau to obtain a count of the whole number of persons in order to apportion House of Representatives seats among the states.”

A bench trial lasting five to seven days is scheduled to begin on Jan. 7 in San Francisco.

Multiple Trials Target US Census Question

Another trial regarding the census citizenship question in New York ended late last month but the judge has still not issued his ruling, and another federal judge in Maryland is still reviewing a series of lawsuits against the same question.

In the contentious New York trial the Department of Justice tried to stop the case from appearing before a judge 14 times to the ire of the ruling judge who declared, “Enough is enough” after the 12th attempt.

The plaintiff in New York put on the Census’ bureau’s own chief data scientist who recommended against adding the question. He testified that the question leads to inaccurate results.

The ruling for the New York case is expected as early as this week, but the loser can still appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Plaintiffs and advocacy organizations like the New York Immigration Coalition accuse the federal government of attempting “to run the clock down until the 2020 survey must go to print.”

The census must go to print by June 2018.


Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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