OAKLAND, CA — On Wednesday, March 6, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of the City of Oakland, the State of California and other plaintiffs, blocking the Trump administration from adding a question on citizenship status to the 2020 Census.
Judge Richard Seeborg agreed with the plaintiffs that including a citizenship question would violate both the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits “arbitrary and capricious” action by a federal agency.
Experts including the U.S. Census Bureau itself say that inclusion of a citizenship question on the Census would discourage noncitizens, their family members and others from participating in the Census, and would significantly undercount residents of states like California with large immigrant populations.
“In short, the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census threatens the very foundation of our democratic system,” Judge Seeborg declared in his ruling.
“Not only is the addition of a citizenship question unconstitutional and illegal, it also is a blatant and transparent attempt to reduce voting power and federal funding for states like California,” Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said. “The question would freeze an inaccurate population count in California for the next decade, jeopardizing at least one of our seats in Congress and billions of dollars in federal funds to which California is entitled for fire prevention, disaster relief, infrastructure and other critical needs.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the lawsuit on March 26, 2018. Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the cities of Oakland, Fremont, Stockton, Los Angeles and Long Beach joined as plaintiffs.
Judge Seeborg also ruled against the inclusion of a citizenship question in a separate lawsuit that the City of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration filed. And in January, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York also ruled against the Trump administration in a lawsuit filed by the State of New York, at least 18 other states, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and a number of local jurisdictions.
The Constitution mandates that the federal government conduct a census every ten years to determine an accurate population count of individuals – regardless of citizenship status.
In March 2018, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the 2020 Census will include a citizenship question. The national census has not included a citizenship question since 1950.
In the New York case, Judge Jesse Furman ruled in January that Ross violated “a veritable smorgasbord” of federal rules by ordering that the 2020 census include a citizenship question. Judge Furman also lambasted Ross and his deputies for mischaracterizing evidence, lying under oath and failing to provide a reasonable explanation for the decision to add the question.
In the California case, Judge Seeborg wrote that including a citizenship question would violate the U.S. Constitution in that it “is fundamentally counterproductive to the goal of obtaining accurate citizenship data about the public.”
The ruling also states: “Secretary Ross’s failure to investigate and consider the likely effects of the citizenship question on the accuracy of the Census Bureau’s enumeration—and therefore on congressional apportionment and the allocation of federal funding—was an abdication of his duty to consider all relevant factors before making his decision. Therefore, the Secretary’s decision to prioritize the inclusion of the citizenship question on the census over any harm that might result was necessarily arbitrary and capricious.”
Almost 11 million immigrants are living in the U.S. without legal permission (the lowest level since 2003), according to the Center for Migration Studies. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that at least 630,000 households would refuse to fill out the census if it includes a citizenship question.
“It is no secret that the Trump administration is dead set on reducing the voting power and federal funding for states like California and cities like Oakland whose residents overwhelmingly did not cast their votes for the current occupant of the White House,” City Attorney Parker said. “The addition of a citizenship question clearly is a pretext for achieving that goal. Faced with the loss of the popular vote and a country that has an increasing number of immigrants and people of color, the question is yet another attempt by an outlaw administration to undercount and disenfranchise diverse communities like Oakland and California.”