The courts delivered yet another setback to the anti-immigrant agenda of the Trump administration today when federal Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California blocked the Commerce Department from including a question about citizenship as part of the 2020 census.
Judge Seeborg cited Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s failure to sufficiently justify a believable rationale for including such a question.
“Secretary Ross’s reliance on [Voting Rights Act] enforcement to justify inclusion of the citizenship question was mere pretext and the definition of an arbitrary and capricious governmental act,” Seeborg found in his ruling.
“Moreover, Secretary Ross’s conclusion that adding the citizenship question would enable the Census Bureau to obtain more ‘complete and accurate data’ in response to the [Justice Department’s] request is not only unsupported, it is directly contradicted by the scientific analysis contained in the Administrative Record,” Seeborg continued.
Opposition to the inclusion of citizenship details among the data collected by the census was immediate after the idea was announced last year, and led to lawsuits being filed by a group of states and localities led by California’s Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
The California AG expressed the concerns of many opponents to the idea of the inclusion of a citizenship question saying that it could “derail the integrity of the census” and lead to an undercount of the actual population by causing undocumented immigrants to fear participating in the census out of concern that it will enable their discovery by ICE agents.
“It would discourage noncitizens and their citizen family members from responding to the census, resulting in a less accurate population count,” Becerra wrote last year in an editorial decrying the concept.
Becerra applauded Judge Seeborg’s ruling today since it would help ensure that billions of dollars in federal population-based aid would continue to flow into state coffers.
“We celebrate this ruling, an important step in protecting billions of dollars meant for critical services Californians rely on, from education, to public health and safety. And we will ardently defend this important judgment to safeguard fairness in funding and representation for California and its local communities,” he added.
Today’s ruling is the second time that a federal court has ruled against the Trump administration in this issue, following a similar decision by a New York judge last month. The final decision on the matter is now scheduled to be decided by the Supreme Court in April, after the justices agreed to accelerate the case and exempt it from the normal appeals process after it was struck down by the NY judge.
The administration will have a difficult fight on its hands after Judge Seeborg ruled today that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross continued to search for any way to allow the inclusion of a citizenship question in the census even after being informed by career Census Bureau administrators that its inclusion would curtail participation in the census.
“What ensued was a cynical search to find some reason, any reason, or an agency request to justify that preordained result,” the judge wrote.
Still, with a Supreme Court now packed with Trump’s conservative allies, the final results of the decision are still uncertain. With America’s growing homelessness problem already making an accurate census count difficult, it’s imperative that anything that could lead to an undercounting of the population is rejected so that we can ensure that federal resources are equitably allocated to the entire population of the country.
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Original reporting by John Bowden and Rafael Bernal at The Hill.