New Jersey to Join Lawsuit Over Census Citizenship Question

The states argue including a citizenship question in the 2020 census would violate the U.S. Constitution.

Gurbir Grewal. Office of the Attorney General / Tim Larsen

New Jersey will join other states in suing the Trump administration over its decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced on Tuesday.

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The suit will argue that the proposed citizenship question violates the U.S. Constitution and will drive down participation in the census, thereby threatening fair representation of states with large immigrant communities in Congress and the Electoral College. An undercount could also cost those states billions of dollars in federal funding, the Attorney General’s office said. The lawsuit seeks to block the inclusion of the citizenship question in the 2020 Census.

“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 in a statement. “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 immigrant population in the country.”

The U.S. Commerce Department announced late Monday that it would add the citizenship question to help enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by providing more data on the citizen voting age population. The department noted that almost every decennial census between 1820 and 1950 asked about citizenship in some form, and said the Department of Justice asked the Census Bureau in December to reinstate a citizenship question.

“Having citizenship data at the census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the VRA, and Secretary [Wilbur] Ross determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government purpose outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts,” a news release from the Commerce Department said.

The multi-state challenge, led by New York, argues the citizen question would reduce participation in immigrant communities—especially in the current political climate—and ultimately deprive those communities of fair representation when legislative seats are apportioned and district lines are drawn. An undercount could potentially cost Democratic states seats in the House and Electoral College electors.

“By injecting a citizenship question into the census, the Trump administration is seeking to sow fear among immigrant communities and inject uncertainty into what should be a non-partisan process,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “The Constitution requires and the nation overwhelmingly needs an accurate and unassailable count. If New Jersey residents are afraid to be counted, it will have an impact on our ability to be properly represented in Congress and adequately funded when it comes to vital federal programs.”

New Jersey to Join Lawsuit Over Census Citizenship Question