Challenge to Census Citizenship Question Will Move Forward
(Bloomberg) -- A suit challenging the Commerce Department’s decision to ask U.S. residents about their citizenship status as part of the census will go forward, even though a judge found that the question has been properly used in the past.
Advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and more than a dozen states, cities and counties sued the department in April over Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census. They claim the move discriminates against immigrants and will reduce the accuracy of the count by reducing participation.
The decision will allow the states and groups to demand documents that shed more light on the process that led to Ross’s decision. The case has already forced the department to surrender documents showing that Ross chose to include the question before consulting with the Justice Department, despite his testimony that the decision was made at its request, and more are on the way. Commerce is likely to appeal the ruling, although it’s unsure when.
Commerce had asked U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in New York to throw out the suit, saying information about citizenship has been collected since 1840. Furman declined to dismiss the case on Thursday, saying that legal precedent "makes clearer that, while deference is certainly owed to the secretary’s decisions, courts have a critical role to play in entertaining challenges like those raised by plaintiffs here."
Furman ruled the citizenship question is a permitted by the Enumerations Clause of the Constitution. The judge said that the clause gives Congress and, in turn, Ross "virtually unlimited discretion" in conducting the census. Historical practice shows the government has consistently used the exercise to count the population and to gather demographic information on matters such as race, sex and citizenship, he said.
But Furman also found the plaintiffs have shown that using that power may have violated their right to due process. They "plausibly allege that Secretary Ross’s decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census was motivated by discriminatory animus and that its application will result in a discriminatory effect," he said.
Commerce said in a statement that it’s pleased the court found that Ross has "broad authority over the census" and that "remaining claims will be dismissed after discovery."
Ross told lawmakers last month that the question would lead to reduced, but not greatly lower, response rates, seeking to quell concerns over participation.
The decision is a "big win" for New Yorkers and anyone who cares about a "fair and accurate census," New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement.
"As we’ve argued, the Trump administration’s plan to demand citizenship status as part of the census is unlawful – and it would potentially cause a huge undercount that would threaten billions in federal funds and New York’s fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College," Underwood said.
The case is New York v U.S. Department of Commerce, 18-cv-2921, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan.)
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