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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
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20 States Fight Addition of Citizenship Question to Census

Nineteen attorneys general and the governor of Colorado banded together Monday to protest the proposed inclusion of citizen status in the 2020 census. 

(CN) - Nineteen attorneys general and the governor of Colorado banded together Monday to protest the proposed inclusion of citizen status in the 2020 census.

Calling it well-settled that the objective of the census is to count citizens and noncitizens alike, the officials say that the addition of a citizenship question would reduce participation, and that the undercount would be hardest felt by communities with large immigrant populations.

Medicaid, food stamps and Section 8 housing vouchers are among the roughly 300 programs funded by federal grant money whose funds are allocated in part based on the decennial census data.

“In other words, a census undercount would jeopardize critical federal funding the states need to provide health insurance, public education funding, food assistance, housing opportunities, energy assistance, and other services and support for millions of residents, regardless of citizenship status,” the attorneys general warn. “Such widespread underfunding harms everyone, starting with the most vulnerable, including low-income communities and children. “

The 12-page letter came two months after the U.S. Department of Justice asked that the Census Bureau, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, “reinstate” a citizenship question on the census.

Calling this request misleading, the attorney generals wrote in a footnote of their letter that “no citizenship question has been included on the decennial census since 1950.”

A citizenship question that was included from 1970 to 2000 appeared “only on the ‘long form’ questionnaire, which was distributed to a sample of about one in six households in lieu of the decennial census questionnaire,” the footnote continues.

The attorneys general note that the Census Bureau replaced the “long form” questionnaire following the 2000 census with the American Community Survey, which is now sent to about one in every 38 households each year.

DOJ General Counsel Arthur Gary argued in the Dec. 12 letter that the addition of the citizenship question would improve enforcement of the vote-dilution prohibition in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, but the attorneys general question how altering the census would help.

“The census is of course only administered every ten years, so any CVAP [citizen voting-age population] figures from the decennial census would quickly become outdated and less reliable over the course of the subsequent decade as a result of population shifts,” the letter states. “And a citizenship question would not provide information sufficient to ascertain the precise number of eligible voters in a district because district residents might be ineligible to vote for other reasons, such as prior felony convictions.”

What is clear, the letter continues, is that collecting citizenship data would frustrate the 14th Amendment’s one-person one-vote requirement when drawing district lines.

“Any method of enumeration that predictably undercounts some communities – as the Justice Department’s proposal would do – will mean that those communities are not fairly represented when legislative seats are apportioned and district lines are drawn,” the letter states. “The Supreme Court has long made clear that legislators represent all constituents in the districts they serve, regardless of whether any particular individual is a citizen.”

Representatives for the Census Bureau did not respond to an email seeking comment.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman co-authored the letter with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. It is also signed by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, as well as the governor of Colorado.

Healey accused the Trump administration of threatening the commonwealth’s federal funding and the  fair representation in government of other states.

“I urge the Census Bureau to reject this reckless request,” she said in a statement.

Becerra called the Justice Department’s maneuver a clear “attempt to bully and discourage our immigrant communities from participating in the 2020 census count.”

“The California Department of Justice is putting President Trump on notice: if a citizenship question is added to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau questionnaire, we are prepared to take any and all necessary legal action to protect a full and accurate census,” Becerra said in a statement.

Schneiderman accused the DOJ of “directly target[ing] state like New York that have large, thriving immigrant populations – threatening our representation in Congress and the Electoral College and billions of dollars in federal funds on which New Yorkers rely.”

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