Opening Statements Begin Today in Federal Trial Challenging Trump Administration’s 2020 Census Citizenship Question

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Public Counsel, along with law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, will make opening statements today in a federal trial regarding a lawsuit that challenges the late addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the city of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and it is being tried together with a similar claim brought by the state of California. The case will be heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“Secretary Ross’ decision to add the citizenship question was based on a flawed process that was exacerbated by discriminatory motivations that were concealed from the public until this litigation,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Ross compelled his staff to concoct a cover story to try to legitimize this misbegotten decision, and overruled his scientific staff to achieve his goal. Through this litigation, we are fighting to preserve the integrity of the 2020 Census to help ensure a fair and accurate count of all people as required under the constitution.”

This lawsuit was filed on April 17, 2018, immediately after Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the 2020 decennial census will include a question asking the citizenship status of every respondent. The suit claims that the addition of the citizenship question will depress participation rates among immigrant communities and communities of color, resulting in a significant undercount. The lawsuit further claims that the addition of the citizenship question was arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, and challenges the question’s constitutionality under both the Enumeration Clause and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

At trial, the lawsuit’s APA claim will focus on the scheme employed by Secretary Ross to get the citizenship question added to the 2020 Census. According to Census Bureau documents, Secretary Ross decided without justification to add the citizenship question, then pushed the Department of Justice to formally request the addition of the question to the 2020 Census. Additionally, Secretary Ross made his initial decision to add the question with the full knowledge that it would impair the quality of census data and that the addition of the question violated express legal requirements forbidding any new topics to be added to the census after March 2017.

The lawsuit’s Enumeration Clause and 14th Amendment claims are based on evidence that the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census will depress response rates among Black, Latinx and immigrant communities. Areas such as San Jose, and other areas with large immigrant populations, will be directly affected because the census count is used as the basis for distributing more than $675 billion annually in federal funding as well as to determine political representation in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.

Below are statements from various thought leaders.

Sam Liccardo, mayor, San Jose, CA: “In San Jose, everyone counts. Our values—and values held dear by millions of Americans—appear threatened by the Trump administration’s political motives. Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census will stoke fears and depress participation in diverse cities like San Jose, threatening hundreds of millions in funding for health, education and other critical services upon which our entire community depends.”

John Libby, Partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips: “Manatt, Phelps & Phillips is pleased to co-counsel with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in the trial of this important case on behalf of our clients the city of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. This case challenges the arbitrary and capricious decision by Commerce Secretary Ross to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. We expect the evidence at trial—including evidence from the Census Bureau’s own analysis—to show that the addition of this question will depress the count of Hispanic and immigrant communities, will affect federal funding to the city of San Jose, and will spread fear among the immigrant community served by BAJI.”
Mark Rosenbaum, Director, Public Counsel: “This trial will tell the real story behind the Trump administration’s conspiracy to corrupt the census for political gain. The census is what counts for our democracy, and this trial is about keeping those counts honest. We will prove that the administration treated the census as if it were a numbers game."

Opal Tometi, Executive Director, BAJI: “As we inch closer to the 2020 Census, the Trump administration is pulling out all the stops in its attempt to suppress the participation of people of color, specifically black immigrants. We are a critical part of the American fabric, and we will not allow this administration’s lies and harmful tactics to deter us from participation. No matter what, we must stand up and we must be counted.”

Trial in this matter is expected to conclude on Tuesday, January 15, 2019.

To view the April 17 complaint, click here.

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 56th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights. Learn more at Lawyerscommittee.org.

About Public Counsel:

Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, with a staff of more than 120 attorneys, social workers, and intake specialists and the support of 5,000 pro bono partners from the nation’s top law firms, leading law schools and major corporations. Public Counsel’s activities are far-ranging and impact a wide spectrum of people who live at or below the poverty level. Our attorneys are national experts on immigration, veterans’ benefits, child welfare, nonprofit law and school discipline, among other areas.

About the Black Alliance for Just Immigration:

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration is the leading black immigrant rights organization in the U.S., representing nearly 10 million black immigrants and refugees. BAJI combats structural racism so that black immigrants and African-Americans can achieve racial, social and economic justice.

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