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Press Release AG Healey Files Lawsuit Challenging Last-Minute Addition of Citizenship Question to the Census

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  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Files Lawsuit Challenging Last-Minute Addition of Citizenship Question to the Census

Emily Snyder

BostonArguing that the last-minute addition of a widely-criticized citizenship question will jeopardize the accuracy of the federal census, undercount Massachusetts residents, and reduce federal funding to the state, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s decision to add the question.

AG Healey joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general who argue that, by adding a citizenship question, the Census Bureau will cause significant decrease in participation, resulting in a dramatic population undercount. The attorneys general contend that an undercount violates the constitutional purpose of the Census — to conduct an accurate count of all people in the nation — which threatens states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College, and will deprive states of a fair share of billions of dollars in federal funding.

“Adding an untested citizenship question at this point would sabotage the accuracy of the 2020 Census and threaten federal funding for critical programs in Massachusetts,” said AG Healey. “We are suing to ensure a fair and accurate Census that counts everyone.”

Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, who is the official federal census liaison for the Commonwealth, shares the AG’s concerns.

“This suit is essential to protecting our political representation and the financial aid that we receive from the federal government,” said Secretary Galvin.

A population undercount would deprive states of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds that are allocated in part based on census data, including funding for education, housing, and infrastructure nationwide. Federal funding also supports essential public programs including Medicaid and SNAP benefits. This proposal would then limit funds designed to support some of the most vulnerable populations in each state, including low-income communities, the elderly, and children—regardless of citizenship.

The attorneys general also argue that the Trump Administration failed to engage in required processes for adding questions to the Census, which typically take years to complete. The attorneys general emphasize that citizenship was not included in the list of topics for the 2020 Census submitted to Congress on March 28, 2017, and that the question has not undergone any field testing.

The Census Bureau announced its decision to add the citizenship inquiry after less than four months of consideration. The question’s addition was prompted by a request from the Justice Department on December 12, 2017, which only came to public attention following news reports. The Justice Department asserted that person-by-person citizenship information was necessary to ensure proper enforcement of Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The attorneys general argue that adding the citizenship question would have the opposite effect. They say that a nationwide, person-by-person citizenship inquiry will actually harm minority representation by driving down participation among both citizens and noncitizens in immigrant communities—a concern that is even more acute in today’s political climate. Four former census directors, who were appointed by Presidents from both political parties, agree that adding a citizenship question will depress response rates, and is therefore unlikely to yield the accurate citizen voting-age population data sought by the Justice Department.

To the extent that the Voting Rights Act requires a calculation of the number of eligible voters in a given jurisdiction, the Census Bureau already provides an adequate—and far less intrusive—source of citizenship information based on sampling from surveys such as the American Community Survey.

The attorneys general argue that adding an untested citizenship question to the Census is therefore unnecessary as well as damaging to accuracy because of its impact on response rates. The resultant population undercount would jeopardize the Census Bureau’s ability to determine how many people are in each state, threatening states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College.

AG Healey previously led a coalition of attorneys general in sending a letter to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, urging the agency to reject the request by the U.S. Department of Justice to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census.

The lawsuit, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and joined by Massachusetts, was also joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Washington D.C., as well as the cities of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, and Seattle, the city and county of San Francisco, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Ann Lynch of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division, Assistant Attorney General Mercy Cover of AG Healey’s Consumer Protection Division, and Jonathan Miller, Chief of the Public Protection & Advocacy Bureau.


Media Contact for AG Healey Files Lawsuit Challenging Last-Minute Addition of Citizenship Question to the Census

  • Office of the Attorney General 

    Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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