The Trump administration is already facing one lawsuit, with more on the way, for trying to weaponize the 2020 census.
After months of hints and pressure from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has announced what voting rights activists feared: The Trump administration's 2020 census will include a question on citizenship status.
But the announcement triggered immediate outrage — and lawsuits.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced he will sue the administration to block implementation of the citizenship question.
"The census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade," said Becerra. "What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to discourage an accurate census count."
Also ready to challenge the change is the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the voting rights group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder that fights gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other election interference. "We will litigate to stop the administration from moving forward with this irresponsible decision," said Holder.
The decennial census is a constitutionally mandated count of the U.S. population. It is a critical tool used in everything from how congressional districts are apportioned, to how much funding states get, to where roads and schools are built. It is crucial every person is counted, regardless of citizenship.
The Justice Department claims citizenship data is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, but legal experts say this is not true. Former Census Bureau officials have argued there would be a darker effect: scaring undocumented immigrants out of answering the census at all, resulting in areas with greater minority population being undercounted.
This may have serious consequences. California could lose an entire congressional district, and Texas could end up with undercounts in high-population cities like Dallas and Houston, giving too many of its congressional districts to rural areas. All of this stands to tilt electoral power to the GOP.
Trump has sought to put his thumb on the census scale in other ways. His initial nominee for deputy director of the Census Bureau was Thomas Brunell, a Republican professor who literally wrote the book on how to suppress democracy. He was forced to withdraw after tough scrutiny on his record.
Republicans are undermining crucial institutions in ways that suspiciously favor them at the ballot box. It is time for the public to demand answers.