Maryland Federal Court Rejects Trump Administration’s Request to End Lawsuit Challenging Census Citizenship Question

Trial in Lawsuit Brought by MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC Will Commence as Scheduled in January 2019
For Immediate Release
Michelle Boykins 202-296-2300, ext. 0144
Sandra Hernandez (213) 629-2512 x. 129
Tony Marcano (213) 629-2512 x.128

Washington, D.C. – A federal court in Maryland today rejected a second bid by the Trump administration to toss out a lawsuit challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

U.S. District Court Judge George J. Hazel’s ruling denying the government’s motion for summary judgment clears the way for a January 22, 2019 trial to determine if the addition of a citizenship question is unconstitutional, discriminatory, or motivated by racial animus.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) filed the lawsuit in May on behalf of Latino and Asian American individuals, social service non-profits, state legislative associations, civil rights groups, voters’ rights organizations, and community partnerships that would be forced to divert resources to combat a potential severe undercount in their respective communities.

“This case needs to go to public trial; characteristically, the Trump administration has obfuscated and outright lied about its motivation to add a citizenship question,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “Its decision to add the question serves a barely-concealed white nationalist agenda, and sacrifices the centuries-long integrity of the Census to that deplorable service.”

The suit is the first to include a claim that Trump administration officials and others conspired to deprive immigrants and minorities of their constitutional rights to equal representation and to fair allocation of federal funds by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. President Donald J. Trump, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, then-White House advisor Stephen Bannon and then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach are listed as co-conspirators whose intent in adding the citizenship question was to severely undercount Latinos, Asian Americans, immigrants, and other populations, according to the lawsuit.

Last month, Judge Hazel rejected the administration’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

"The administration has a two-year track record of targeting and attempting to marginalize immigrant and communities of color. Through this lawsuit, we ask the courts to hold the administration accountable and uphold its constitutional responsibility. This court should stop another attempt to discriminate against our communities," said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.

The Census Bureau eliminated a question on citizenship from the decennial form after the 1950 Census. Late last year, however, the U.S. Department of Justice abruptly requested the addition of a citizenship question to the Census, falsely reporting to Congress that the question was necessary to help it enforce the federal Voting Rights Act.

In fact, the administration added the question in order to deprive immigrants of constitutionally-mandated political representation by excluding them and those who live in proximity to them from the population base used for legislative line drawing.  Plaintiffs allege that the Department of Justice already has all the data it needs to enforce the Voting Rights Act, and made the request, at the behest of Secretary Ross, in order to cover up the administration’s true motivation for adding the question.

Since the announcement by Secretary Ross to add the citizenship questions, documents have shown that, in fact, the Department of Commerce repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to request adding the citizenship question.

Census data are crucial to allocating seats in Congress, drawing accurate election districts, and ensuring equitable distribution of federal funds for a wide range of vital programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Section 8 housing vouchers, transportation funds, and special education grants. An undercount in the decennial census will affect all of these programs. 

Read the complaint, and Judge Hazel’s opinion issued today.