Court Blocks Citizenship Status Question in 2020 Census Questionnaire

(Photo/U.S. Census Bureau/Public Information Office)

A Federal court in New York issued an order this morning blocking a question about citizenship status from being included in the 2020 Census questionnaire. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, had claimed that the question had been included at the request of the Justice Department. According to Ross, the question was supposed to help the Justice Department investigate violations of the Voting Rights Act. Evidence presented in court showed that the Justice Department’s professional staff actually opposed including the question.

A senior Justice Department official testified that the question on citizenship was not necessary for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

The New York Immigration Coalition and many other civil rights groups around the country oppose the citizenship question because it will discourage immigrants from completing the Census questionnaire due to fear of being targeted by ICE. Since the Census is used to determine Congressional apportionment, discouraging immigrants from responding would result in a loss of Congressional Representatives from areas with large numbers of immigrants.

Federal Judge Jesse Furman was sharply critical of the politicized decision to include the citizenship question. Furman wrote that “Secretary Ross ignored, and violated, a statute that requires him, in circumstances like those here, to collect data through the acquisition and use of ‘administrative records’ instead of through ‘direct inquiries’ on a survey such as the census….Additionally, Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question was ‘arbitrary and capricious’ on its own terms: He failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices ― a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut APA violations.”

The Census Bureau itself opposed including the question, estimating that over 600,000 households were likely to refuse to fill out the Census form if it were included.

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