Greenbelt, MD – A federal trial begins today in a lawsuit alleging that Trump administration officials and others intentionally conspired to deprive racial minorities of their constitutional rights by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
The lawsuit, filed by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC), is the first and only among six legal challenges to include a claim that Trump administration officials and others conspired to deprive immigrants of color of their constitutional rights to equal representation and to fair allocation of federal funds by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
Donald J. Trump, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, then-White House advisor Stephen Bannon and then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach are listed as co-conspirators.
“Politicizing the decennial census is a cardinal constitutional sin, but doing so through intentional racial discrimination against Latinos and others is particularly reprehensible,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Our trial team will present the clear and strong case that the Trump administration acted in plain contravention of its sacred constitutional duty.”
MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC represent Latino and Asian American individuals, Native Americans, social service non-profits, state legislative associations, civil rights groups, voters’ rights organizations, and community partnerships that would be forced to divert resources to combat a potential severe undercount in their respective communities. (Read the plaintiffs list here.)
The complaint was filed in May 2018 in response to an action Ross announced in late March 2018, just days before the statutory April 1 deadline for finalizing the 2020 Census questionnaire. It charges that Ross ordered the addition of a citizenship question without prior assessment of its impact on an accurate count and without adequate explanation of why the question is necessary and how the information will be used.
The lawsuit, LUPE v. Ross, was recently consolidated with Kravitz v. U.S. Department of Commerce, another challenge to the citizenship question filed with the Maryland court.
The trial will be held before Judge George Hazel, in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC will present evidence that the addition of the citizenship question was racially discriminatory, and the product of a conspiracy by Trump, Bannon, Kobach, and other cabinet members and government officials to violate the civil rights of communities of color.
The legal teams will also show that the addition of the citizenship question would undermine the government’s constitutional responsibility to count every person living in the U.S. every decade, and that it violates a requirement under federal law to follow the Census Bureau’s rules for testing new questions.
“The citizenship question has been a dark cloud looming over the 2020 Census for over a year,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “Through the courts we will prove that this question was added to exacerbate the fear in immigrant communities and keep us from being counted accurately.”
With anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration at a fever pitch, civil rights and voting rights experts have repeatedly expressed concerns that adding an unnecessary citizenship question will stoke fears that the data will be used to target immigrants of color and cause households from many communities to avoid completing Census questionnaires.
MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC lawyers will show several exchanges of emails and phone calls about the citizenship question between Ross and Kobach, who was vice chairman of the Trump administration’s now-defunct voter fraud commission. At least one e-mail was sent at the direction of Bannon, the former White House aide who frequently advocated for far-right and anti-immigrant policies before he was ousted from his position.
“We are prepared to provide the court with documentary and testimonial evidence that supports our request for reversal of this discriminatory act that will otherwise financially, socially, and politically impact our communities for the next decade and beyond,” said Denise M. Hulett, national senior counsel for MALDEF.
Although the government defendants allege that the question was added in response to a request by the U.S. Department of Justice in late 2017, trial evidence demonstrates that, in fact, the plan was devised in the White House in the early days of the Trump administration, and that the Department of Commerce initiated discussion with the Department of Justice to secure the request.
Census data are crucial to allocating seats in Congress, drawing accurate election districts and ensuring equitable distribution of federal funds for a wide range of vital programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Section 8 housing vouchers, transportation funds, and special education grants. An undercount in the decennial census will affect all of these programs and will harm all communities.
Read the complaint here.