Trump Census Exclusions Hearken Back to Slavery Era, Lawsuit Says

A coalition of state and local governments sued over the planned exclusion of undocumented immigrants in the census reporting used to determine states’ seats in the House of Representatives.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Since the U.S. Constitution mandated that the government conduct a count of its population, that number has included all “persons” within its borders.

The Trump administration’s plans to change that practice spurred a federal lawsuit on Friday pointing back to the ugly history of the last time that the government questioned the meaning of that word.

“For 150 years—since the United States recognized the whole personhood of those formerly bound in slavery—the unambiguous requirement that all persons be counted for apportionment purposes, regardless of immigration status, has been respected by every executive official, every cabinet officer, and every president,” the 49-page complaint notes in its introduction.

“Until now,” the lawsuit continues.

For New York Attorney General Letitia James, who leads a coalition of nearly 20 states, 10 cities and five counties suing over the change, Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in the census bore the hallmarks of a political stunt.

“It’s another election-year tactic to fire up his base by dehumanizing immigrants and using them as scapegoats for his failures as a leader,” James said in a statement. “No one ceases to be a person because they lack documentation, which is why we filed this lawsuit.”

Earlier in Trump’s term, James led a different lawsuit that ultimately prevented the Department of Commerce from inserting a citizenship question into the census, in a blistering ruling by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman that largely upheld by the Supreme Court. Furman declined to investigate whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross perjured himself in his congressional testimony about the citizenship question, but the judge made clear that he did not find the secretary’s justification for the action credible.

In a different case before Judge Furman, government lawyers conceded on Thursday that Department of Homeland Security officials made “inaccurate or misleading statements” in sworn declarations, which the government repeated in legal briefs.

Citing this history, New York City Corporation Counsel James Johnson detected a pattern.

“Yesterday, the Trump administration was forced to ‘fess up to misleading the public and the court,” Johnson said in a statement. “Today, we’re going to court to make it end their brazen effort to mislead the public about the census.”

Emphasizing the Constitution’s requirement to count every person for the survey, in order to help Congress apportion everything from federal aid to political representation, Johnson continued: “By trying to exclude our immigrant residents from the count, the Trump administration is blatantly defying the Supreme Court and the Constitution.”

“We will reject this attempt to sow chaos,” he added. “We will ensure our communities have their voice in Congress and the federal assistance they need to recover from this pandemic.”

The states joining New York’s lawsuit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

They are also backed by the cities of Central Falls, Chicago, Columbus, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Providence, San Francisco, and Seattle, plus five counties across the United States and Washington, D.C.

Bringing a separate lawsuit in the District of Columbia on Thursday, the city of Atlanta filed similar claims with a coalition of nonprofit groups.

The burgeoning litigation shortly followed Trump’s announcement earlier this week that he would order 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.

Trump titled the memo: “Excluding Illegal Aliens from the Apportionment Base Following the 2020 Census,” continuing a years-long effort that has been denounced as a naked power grab meant to reduce the political power and funding of blue states and cities where those immigrants live.

The coalition wants a federal judge to block the change for alleged violations of the Constitution’s enumeration clause, the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause, the 10th Amendment’s protections of states’ rights, the 14th Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act.

As in the original census case, the Commerce Department, Census Bureau and its leaders are listed as defendants. The lawsuit filed Friday sues President Donald Trump first.

The White House deferred comment to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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