On January 15, 2019, a New York federal judge ruled against the Trump administration’s inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. census questionnaire.
This New York case is the first of three high-profile trials around the country challenging Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to include a question on the next U.S. census that asks respondents whether they are American citizens, as discussed in our recent alert. The plaintiffs in the case include 18 states, several cities and jurisdictions and a number of civil rights organizations. Depending on the outcomes of the other two pending cases in California and Maryland, the government is likely to appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court.
U.S. census figures determine where billions of dollars in federal funds are spent and how the House of Representatives and other political districts are remapped to reflect population changes. Though Mr. Ross claims that the question will “help the government enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” which prohibits states and local governments from imposing any voting law resulting in discrimination against racial or language minorities, census bureau experts say the question would deter immigrants from responding, resulting in undercounting in communities with large immigrant populations.
The Supreme Court has already scheduled a hearing on one aspect of the case, namely whether Secretary Ross and others can be compelled to answer questions about this decision to add the citizenship question. The hearing will take place on February 19, 2019.