The Commerce Department said on Monday that the 2020 Census would include a question about citizenship status in order to help the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The Justice Department requested the change in December in order to obtain more data on the voting age population, information that Commerce said the courts and DOJ used for enforcement activities.
“Having citizenship data at the census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the VRA,” the department said in a press release. Commerce suggested the new data would help DOJ and the courts protect minority rights through VRA’s section two.
“Secretary [Wilbur] Ross determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government purpose outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts,” Commerce also said.
In response to Commerce’s decision, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit and claimed the new question’s inclusion was illegal:
#BREAKING: Filing suit against @realdonaldtrump‘s Administration over decision to add #citizenship question on #2020Census. Including the question is not just a bad idea — it is illegal: https://t.co/vW8sa7khq9
— Xavier Becerra (@AGBecerra) March 27, 2018
“The Trump administration is threatening to derail the integrity of the census by seeking to add a question relating to citizenship to the 2020 census questionnaire,” Becerra said in an op-ed.
Both former Attorney General Eric Holder and the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the decision on Twitter:
The Trump administration is undermining the 2020 Census with its anti-immigrant agenda.
Undercounting communities with large immigrant populations could mean weakened political representation, and the loss of millions in aid for health, education, and infrastructure. https://t.co/9aw7In6u8W
— ACLU (@ACLU) March 27, 2018
Constitution does not require citizenship question. This is purely political. Trump Administration is trying to rig the 2020 Census (to protect gerrymandering) by intimidating people. Don’t be fooled-some states will unfairly lose funds and representation. We will sue. https://t.co/2R3mZ0FQSp
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) March 27, 2018
Becerra, in his op-ed, added that the measure was “innocuous at first blush,” but that “its effect would be truly insidious.” Arguing the new question would discourage people from responding to the census, he said that the question’s inclusion would jeopardize funding for public services.
In an attempt to frame the decision as “political,” Becerra complained about how Trump targeted immigrants.
Becerra’s state has faced intense scrutiny from Trump’s administration, including in a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department earlier this month.
Both the DOJ and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have criticized the state for its immigration enforcement policies, claiming that it doesn’t cooperate with federal authorities.