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States, Cities Sue US Government Over Census Question


New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stands with members of District Council 37 after a news conference in New York, April 3, 2018. Schneiderman announced a new lawsuit by 17 states, the District of Columbia and six cities against the U.S. government Tuesday, saying a plan to add a citizenship demand to the census questionnaire is unconstitutional.

A group of U.S. states and cities sued the Trump administration Tuesday to try to stop it from asking people filling out 2020 census forms whether they are citizens.

The lawsuit by 17 states, Washington, D.C., and six cities challenged what they called last week's "unconstitutional and arbitrary" decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census Bureau, to add the citizenship question.

It was also a fresh challenge to what New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, called the administration's "anti-immigrant animus."

All of the states bringing the case have Democratic attorneys general. They were joined by New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Providence, Rhode Island, which all have Democratic mayors, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Another state, California, filed a similar lawsuit last week.

The White House and the Commerce Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Required under the U.S. Constitution, the decennial census is used to determine political boundaries; the allocation of local, state and federal legislative positions; and the annual distribution of about $700 billion of
federal funds.

Critics of the citizenship question say it might dissuade immigrants, and perhaps many citizens, from being counted, with a disproportionate impact on Democratic-leaning states.

Supporters of the question, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, say it will help the country enforce the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A citizenship question has not appeared in the census since 1950.

Constitutional requirement

The lawsuit accused the Trump administration of violating the Constitution's requirement that the government conduct an "actual enumeration" of the "whole number of persons" every 10 years.

At the news conference, Schneiderman called the citizenship question a "blatant effort" by the administration to prevent the Census Bureau from doing its job.

"This is an affront to our national ideals," Schneiderman said. "This is an affront to the Constitution."

The lawsuit said adding the question could particularly exacerbate undercounting of the fast-growing Hispanic population, after an estimated 1.54 percent undercount in 2010.

It also said the question would add fuel to a threat made in congressional testimony last June by Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The complaint quoted Homan telling Congress that undocumented immigrants "should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder. And you need to be worried."

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