Planet Princeton

New Jersey will sue over decision to add citizenship question to U.S. census, Grewal says

New Jersey will join a multi-state coalition in suing the federal government to block the inclusion of a proposed citizenship question in the 2020 U.S. Census, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Tuesday.

“Notwithstanding the administration’s rhetoric, we don’t need a citizenship question on the 2020 census. And the reality is that such a question would only do harm,” Grewal said. “Particularly in the current national climate, a citizenship question will obviously cause great consternation and discourage participation in the census. That lack of participation will inevitably have far-reaching, negative effects – particularly in New Jersey, where we have the third largest percentage of immigrants in the country.”

The impending multi-state lawsuit, which is being led by New York’s Attorney General, will name the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau as defendants.

The complaint will challenge the addition of the citizenship question as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs plan to argue that such a question threatens the fair representation of states with large immigrant communities in Congress and the Electoral College. They also say the change will cost those states billions of dollars in federal funds for programs like Medicaid.

Under the Constitution, the Census Bureau has an obligation to determine “the whole number of persons in each state.” The lawsuit will argue that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census – an idea four prior census directors appointed by presidents from both parties have advised against — will limit participation in the census among immigrants. That lack of participation will result in a population undercount that will disproportionately harm states and cities with large immigrant communities, the plaintiffs say.

“We are glad to stand with New York and the other participating states in challenging this unnecessary question regarding citizenship status – both to protect New Jersey residents and ensure a fair and accurate census,” Grewal said. “Our objective is to have this citizenship question – which arbitrarily ignores decade after decade of our nation’s regular census practices – not included in the 2020 Census.”

In December, the U.S. Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau include a citizenship question on the 2020 census form sent to every household in the United States. The Department of Justice argued that the collection of the information was necessary to ensure an accurate count, consistent with proper enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The multi-state lawsuit will argue that a citizenship question would have precisely the opposite effect, driving down participation in immigrant communities. The lawsuit will also argue that the resulting undercount would deprive immigrant communities of fair representation when legislative seats are apportioned and district lines are drawn.

According to the plaintiffs, the Voting Rights Act requires a calculation of the number of eligible voters in a given jurisdiction. They say the Census Bureau provides an adequate—and far less intrusive—source of citizenship information based on sampling, including the American Community Survey. The decennial census is used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives, and to determine the total number of delegates each state receives in the Electoral College. They will argue that as a result, an undercount of population in states where large immigrant communities live will impair fair representation.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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