Eighteen state attorneys general and six cities sued the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department Tuesday over the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 count of the nation’s population.
The census has not asked whether members of American households are U.S. citizens since 1950 but planned to in 2020 at the request of the Justice Department, which said it’s needed to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act.
The plaintiffs, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, saw an ulterior motive.
“This is really just an effort to punish places like New York that welcome immigrants, that are accommodating to immigrants and that embrace the American tradition of open arms to all,” Schneiderman said.
The census determines the number of representatives states send to Congress, the number of electors to the Electoral College and the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars. Asking about citizenship, the lawsuit said, “will fatally undermine the accuracy of the population count.”
The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court, called the decision to ask about citizenship “unconstitutional and arbitrary.”
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum feared it would drive immigrants into the shadows because of concerns about how the federal government will use citizenship information.
“This question about citizenship discourages accuracy and inclusion,” she said, noting the constitutional obligation to conduct an “actual Enumeration” of the population every 10 years.
The states suing are New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. The cities are Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco and Seattle, along with the US Conference of Mayors.