The Slatest

California Sues Trump Administration Over Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at the California State Capitol
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at the California State Capitol on March 7, 2018 in Sacramento, California. Stephen Lam/Getty Images

The state of California sued the Trump administration Monday night over the administration’s decision to include a question about citizenship in the upcoming census, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The state’s lawsuit argues the question violates the Constitution because the census is required to obtain an “actual Enumeration” of every person in each state, according to the Washington Post.

More practically, opponents to the question argue it would deter undocumented immigrants from responding to the census, ultimately leading to undercounts that would mean states with significant numbers of immigrants would stand to lose seats in Congress, electoral votes, and federal funding. According to Politico, Democrats worry the question would cost California a Congressional seat.


In an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Becerra and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla called for an end to the “politicization” of the census. “If the bureau is ill-prepared for the job or a count is faulty, every state, every neighborhood, faces the risk of losing its fair share of federal funding for its people and its taxpayers,” they wrote. “This request is an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes.”


The Commerce Department announced its decision to include the question in the 2020 census Monday night. According to a press release, that decision was made to “help enforce the Voting Rights Act,” which protects minority voting rights. According to a press release, the department decided more accurate information about the population actually able to vote could help more effectively identify potential voter rights violations. “Secretary Ross determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government purpose outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts,” the press release said.


In a memorandum, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross wrote that the department had conducted a “comprehensive review” before making the decision and admitted that, while “a significantly lower response rate by non-citizens could reduce the accuracy” of the census, “neither the Census Bureau nor the concerned stakeholders could document that the response rate would in fact decline materially.”

In a statement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi argued that the question “will inject fear and distrust into vulnerable communities, and cause traditionally undercounted communities to be even further under-represented, financially excluded and left behind.

“The Trump Administration put politics over the Constitution and, in so doing, ignored the consensus views of former Census Bureau directors of both parties and the conclusions of the Census Bureau’s own recent study, which warns of ‘an unprecedented groundswell in confidential and data sharing concerns, particularly among immigrants or those who live with immigrants,’” she said.

Becerra also argued the inclusion of the question violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits “arbitrary and capricious” agency action, according to the Post.

The citizenship question has not been asked on the census since 1950.