The paperwork used by census takers in 2000. (Boris Yaro/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

California officials praise ruling barring citizenship question on 2020 census

California officials on Tuesday hailed a ruling by a federal judge in New York blocking a plan by the administration of President Donald Trump to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

“This is a victory for all Americans,” said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who represented San Francisco in the New York case.

“The Trump administration was playing politics with people’s lives in a deliberate attempt to undercount the population and tip power in his favor,” Herrera said in a statement.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla said, “Today’s ruling is a victory for democracy. An undercount in the 2020 Census could cost California billions of dollars of federal funding, jeopardize our representation in Congress and our fundamental voting rights.”

The question proposed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department supervises the Census Bureau, would ask people whether they or members or their household are citizens.

Opponents contend the question would deter non-citizen immigrants from participating in the census. They say the resulting undercount will lead to reduced federal funding and congressional representation, which are based on the once-a-decade census.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of New York ruled that Ross’s decision to include the question violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act because Ross did not give a rational explanation and “ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence” before him.

He said Ross’s announcement in March 2018 that he was including the question at the request of the Justice Department to obtain information to enforce the Voting Rights Act was “pretextual” because evidence showed that Ross made the decision months before conferring with the Justice Department and that there are better ways to obtain citizenship information.

Furman also said in a 277-page ruling Ross violated a law requiring him to tell Congress three years in advance before adding new topics to the census.

He issued an injunction prohibiting the use of the question.

The judge ruled in two lawsuits. One, led by the state of New York, was filed by 18 states, Washington, D.C., and 15 cities and counties,
including San Francisco and Monterey County. The second suit was filed by several nonprofit groups.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said, “We are disappointed and are still reviewing the ruling. Our government is legally
entitled to include a citizenship question on the census and people in the United States have a legal obligation to answer.”

The New York cases are among several lawsuits filed in federal courts around the country to challenge the citizenship question.

Two other lawsuits are currently in trial before U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco. Those cases were filed by the state of California, later joined by Oakland, Fremont and four other cities and counties, and by San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

Six days of testimony in that trial ended on Monday and Seeborg will hear closing arguments on Feb. 15.

Another lawsuit filed by individual residents of Maryland, Arizona and California is due to go to trial before a federal judge in Baltimore on Jan. 22.

-Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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