(CN) — The city of Atlanta, along with a coalition of nonprofits and naturalized citizens, sued late Thursday to stop President Donald Trump’s plan to exclude undocumented people from the upcoming census.
Filing their federal lawsuit in Washington, the plaintiffs cast Trump’s unprecedented attempt to change the once-a-decade count used to divvy seats in Congress as racially and politically motivated.
“The Constitution is unambiguous in its requirements relating to the census count and reapportionment of Congressional seats — all persons must be counted,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of co-plaintiff Common Cause. “This directive simply ignores those requirements in an unconstitutional attempt to manipulate the process for racial advantage and partisan political gain.”
Earlier this week, Trump ordered the Commerce Department to exclude undocumented immigrants in the census reporting used to determine states’ seats in the House of Representatives. The proposal would create a radical shift in how the census is conducted, as for hundreds of years population counts were conducted regardless of immigration status.
Critics responded that the memo — titled “Excluding Illegal Aliens From the Apportionment Base Following the 2020 Census” — was a blatant attempt to reduce House seats in Democratic-controlled states with large immigrant communities like California and New York.
With an estimated 2.2 million undocumented residents, Trump’s directive would likely cost California multiple seats. Both New York and California, which own a combined 80 seats, led the successful fight against the Trump administration’s quest to include a citizenship question on the census.
“Counting every person in our country through the census is a principle so foundational that it is written into our Constitution,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in response to the memo. “This latest action by the administration to exclude undocumented immigrants when determining representation in Congress, rooted in racism and xenophobia, is a blatant attack on our institutions and our neighbors.”
Per the Constitution, the census is conducted every 10 years and is used to determine the number of seats each state gets in Congress and impacts how federal funding is divvied up.
After the census is completed, the Commerce Department delivers a report to the president that details the total residents in each state. A short time later, typically in early January, the president then sends Congress a statement on how seats in the House should be divided based on the Commerce Department’s report.
In their 31-page lawsuit, Atlanta accuses the White House of continuing its quest to dilute the political power of minorities. They additionally argue the president lacks the authority to amend the apportionment process.
“The President’s memorandum is the culmination of a years-long effort to transfer political power en masse from voters of color — chiefly, but not exclusively, Latino voters — to ‘Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,’” the complaint states. “In other words, the memorandum, and the policy changes embodied therein, was motivated by intentional invidious discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and/or national origin.”
Other plaintiffs include the New Jersey city of Paterson, the Advancement of New Americans and eight U.S. citizens from a variety of ethnicities.
The plaintiffs are represented by Bondurant Mixson & Elmore of Atlanta and claim the memo violates the Equal Protection Clause. Along with Trump, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Jr. and Cheryl Johnson, clerk for the House of Representatives, are named as defendants.
In justifying the contentious order, Trump maintains the Constitution is ambiguous regarding which “persons must be included in the apportionment base.” He says he has the power to exclude undocumented residents from the count, and that such action is crucial to ensure the “integrity of the democratic process” and prevent states like California from additional congressional representation.
“I have accordingly determined that respect for the law and protection of the integrity of the democratic process warrant the exclusion of illegal aliens from the apportionment base, to the extent feasible and to the maximum extent of the president’s discretion under the law,” the memo states.
The White House and Commerce Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit late Thursday.