Houston Matters

Litigation Over Citizenship Question In 2020 Census Will Probably End Up Before SCOTUS

NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang tells Houston Matters the plaintiffs contend the question would be added without adequate testing. The Trump administration refutes that notion.


This file photo shows former New York Attorney General Attorney General Eric Schneiderman posing with members of District Council 37 after announcing a lawsuit arguing that a plan to add a citizenship demand to the census questionnaire is unconstitutional.

The ongoing litigation over whether the 2020 Census should include a question about citizenship, which has a Texas factor, will probably end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, NPR national correspondent Hansi Lo Wang told Houston Matters Friday.

Lo Wang is covering a trial over the citizenship question which is taking place in New York, with the closing arguments expected later this month.

As NPR has reported, more than two dozen states and cities, as well as other groups, have filed lawsuits against the Trump administration calling to remove the question. Critics of the measure worry about the possibility the question will discourage non-citizens, especially unauthorized immigrants, from participating in the census.

The census has to count everybody –regardless of citizenship status— because it’s a Constitutional mandate. The administration contends the question will allow the Justice Department to enforce the Voting Rights Act more effectively.

“This case is expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” Lo Wang told host Houston Matters Craig Cohen, while detailing that the rulings on the multiple lawsuits are expected to be appealed through the circuit courts and ultimately to the highest court in the land.

Adequate testing

NPR national correspondent Hansi Lo Wang.

Lo Wang explained that one of the concerns is that the question would be added without adequate testing.

He also noted that “the Census Bureau research has shown that this question will likely discourage a lot of households with non-citizens from participating in the Census.” But the wording of the question has been included in the American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau conducts, so “the Trump administration says, because it’s the same wording, they feel that this is adequately tested.”

The plaintiffs, however, have brought expert witnesses who have said the American Community Survey and the census are different.

Lo Wang also said that the Trump administration actually acknowledges the question can discourage some households with non-citizens, but they believe that efforts undertaken by the Census Bureau to make up for that, such as sending Census workers to households that don’t immediately fill out the forms and the use of statistical methods, will mitigate the risk of an undercount.

Texas factor

The Texas factor is that one of the lawsuits has been filed by La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), which is based in our state. The Hispanic Caucus of Texas State Legislators is also a plaintiff.

The census is important because local governments and providers of different services rely on its data to determine planning for public policy and projects.

Lo Wang also underscored that the census “has direct implications on how political power is shared” because it impacts how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets. In that sense, the states, cities and groups who are fighting the potential measure in the courts have argued that asking the citizenship question would dilute political representation and funds for states that tend to vote Democratic.

The Supreme Court said Friday it will hear arguments over the evidence the federal judge who is presiding the New York trial can consider.

The issue for the court is whether U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman may include the depositions of acting assistant attorney general John Gore and Commerce Department officials, as well as other evidence that was not part of the official, or administrative, record the Commerce Department compiled.

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