AG Becerra to Trump Administration: Citizenship Question On 2020 Census Would Be Unconstitutional

SACRAMENTO February 12, 2018 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, co-leading a coalition of 19 attorneys general, today registered his strong opposition to a recent request by the Trump Administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau questionnaire. Although a citizenship question has not been included in a decennial U.S. Census since 1950, the U.S. Department of Justice recently asked the U.S. Census Bureau to resurrect a citizenship question for the upcoming ten-year census, incorrectly contending that the addition would be “critical to the Department’s enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”

In a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who is charged with overseeing the U.S. Census Bureau, Attorney General Becerra and his fellow Attorneys General cautioned that a citizenship question would violate the U.S. Census Bureau’s obligations under the Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act, and potentially other federal statutes. Attorney General Becerra co-authored today’s letter along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

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“What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is illegal. The Constitution requires that, every 10 years, we accurately count every person in our country, regardless of citizenship status. This is a sacred responsibility. It determines how many Congressional seats each state receives and how billions of dollars in federal funds are distributed. At the local level, it should also produce an accurate population count that our communities can rely on to identify the need for critical services such as disaster relief, infrastructure, public health, and police and fire protection,” said Attorney General Becerra. “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. This is clearly an attempt to bully and discourage our immigrant communities fro m participating in the 2020 Census count. We also call on Congress to fully and immediately fund preparations for the 2020 Census. California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump Administration to botch this important decennial obligation.”

“The Trump Administration has underfunded, understaffed and under-tested the Census. Now they want to further undermine this critical population count by adding a question about citizenship to the decennial survey,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “The inclusion of a citizenship question would discourage non-citizens from participating in the Census resulting in an undercount that would cost California our fair representation in Congress and billions in federal funding over the next decade. As the largest and most diverse state in the nation, California has a lot on the line and only one chance to get it right. We will not sit idly by while this administration undermines yet another pillar of our democracy.”

Attorney General Becerra and his fellow Attorneys General make four main points in today’s letter:

  • The U.S. Constitution requires “counting the whole number of persons in each State.” Adding a citizenship question would fatally undermine the accuracy of the 2020 Census and reduce response rates, especially among immigrant and noncitizen communities;
  • This threat to the accuracy of the 2020 Census is magnified by the extreme lateness of the U.S. Department of Justice’s proposal — the U.S. Census Bureau must meet a statutory deadline of March 31, 2018, less than two months away, to submit its final questionnaire to Congress;
  • The states would be profoundly harmed by an inaccurate 2020 Census, since it could result in an incorrect calculation of the number of Representatives to which each state is entitled, in violation of the Census Clause of the Constitution, and jeopardize critical federal funding that states depend on; and
  • Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census would hamper — not advance, as the U.S. Department of Justice purports — the goals of the Voting Rights Act. Because the U.S. Justice Department’s request is unsupported by its stated reason, adding a citizenship question would be arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act.

Joining Attorneys General Becerra, Schneiderman, and Healy in sending today’s letter are the Attorneys General of: Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawai’i, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and the Governor of the State of Colorado.