GREENBELT, MD – The Trump administration’s plan to collect and provide incomplete citizenship data to the states for purposes of redistricting is an unconstitutional and racially discriminatory scheme intended to deprive Latinos and non-citizens of equal representation, according to a lawsuit filed Friday by civil rights organizations.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) filed suit on behalf of two non-profit groups and two Latino voters in Arizona and Texas who say they would be harmed by the plan because it seeks to dilute minority voting strength while increasing white representation.
“Recent history shows that Lyin’ Wilbur Ross and the rest of the Trump administration simply cannot be trusted to collect or distribute sensitive citizenship data,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Their nefarious aims taint all that they do in this area, and this devious executive order should never be implemented.”
In July, Donald J. Trump issued an executive order directing all federal agencies to share information about citizenship status with the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau. He instructed the Census Bureau to then share that information, known as Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) data, with states that wish to exclude non-citizens from the total population counts used to draw new redistricting plans. Trump issued the order shortly after losing his bid to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, which had the identical purpose – to decrease political representation for immigrant populations and for the citizens who live in their communities.
The suit names Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham as defendants, and says they continued to conspire to collect and include citizenship data for redistricting purposes after courts blocked the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
“This administration will stop at nothing to suppress the political voice of Latinos and other communities of color, while showing blatant disregard for the U.S. Constitution that they are supposed to uphold,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Advancing Justice | AAJC. “It’s an unconscionable abuse of power for discriminatory purposes, and we intend to stop it.”
The decennial Census requires a count of every person, and is used for allocating congressional seats among the 50 states, as well as for drawing congressional, state, and local election districts that are appropriately equal in size.
“Plan A, adding a citizenship question to the Census, failed,” said Denise Hulett, national senior counsel at MALDEF. “This is Plan B. Although it does not involve collecting citizenship data from individuals, collecting the data from other agencies has the same discriminatory motivation, violates the same procedural protections, unlawfully advantages the same white voters, and is just as illegal as Plan A.”
Attorneys with both groups say the order violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Equal Protection guarantee because its purpose is discriminatory. Use of citizen-only data to apportion congressional seats or to draw legislative districting plans will harm voters, primarily Latinos and Asian Americans, who live in immigrant communities.
Additionally, the suit challenges the order as a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act because it departs from regulatory requirements without any justification to support collecting and reporting the data.
MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC represent La Unión del Pueblo Entero (“LUPE”) a community-based nonprofit in Texas, Promise Arizona (PAZ) a nonprofit, faith-based organization located in Arizona, as well as Juanita Valdez-Cox, a member and the Executive Director of LUPE, and Lydia Camarillo, a registered voter in Texas.
Last year, MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC successfully challenged the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question. While the case was still ongoing, evidence surfaced that Thomas B. Hofeller, a GOP strategist, had been in contact with a Trump transition team member and Commerce officials about adding the citizenship question in order to shift political power in favor of white voters and away from Latino voters. In the documents belonging to Hofeller, he indicated that a citizenship question and the CVAP data would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” and would alienate Latino voters.