The Administration’s Effort to Suppress Minority Political Power through the 2020 Census

“The decision that nobody wanted” was the theme of the Congressional briefing held on June 10th to discuss the additional of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

At any moment, the Supreme Court will decide if adding a question to the census asking if the respondent is a citizen of the United States is constitutional. But adding a citizenship question will result in wiping millions of people from political representation, panelists warned a packed room of Congressional representatives and staffers.

The briefing, entitled “The Trump Administration Effort to Suppress Minority Political Power through the 2020 Census,” featured panelists Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Sara Brannon, managing attorney for the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union; Andrea Senteno, D.C. regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Keshia Morris, census and mass incarceration project manager at Common Cause; and Terry Ao Minnis, senior director of the census and voting programs at Advancing Justice AAJC.

“The Census is required as per Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution,” Johnson-Blano said. “It should be a non-partisan, shared action. It should not be weaponized or politicized.”

The Trump administration first proposed adding a citizenship question to the Census in 2018, citing the information as necessary to enforcing voting rights laws. Last week, new evidence found in the documents of Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller directly links the addition of the citizenship question to a plan to create an electoral advantage for “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” documents show. Hofeller passed away last August.

The evidence comes at a crucial moment: seven cases were filed in response to the citizenship question, each of which are currently at varying points in the judicial process, panelists said. With an impending decision from the Supreme Court, the partisan slant and intentional disenfranchisement of minority and undocumented individuals will have a lasting effect for years to come, Minnis said.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit on behalf of the City of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration last year to challenge the late addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The case won in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The Lawyers’ Committee also submitted an amicus brief to the case currently before the Supreme Court denouncing the proposed question of citizenship.

“We are concerned that if it is decided to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census, this will impact future voting rights litigation,” Senteno said. “This is the groundwork that can lead us towards a larger fight for protecting voting rights around the country.”

Officials from U.S. Census Bureau are against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 iteration of the survey due to the monumental decrease in participation from Latinx and the non-American citizen community, the panelists explained. Census data is used for local and federal redistricting, statistical research and monetary allocations, including an estimated $675 billion in federal funding. A Census undercount will jeopardize state and local entitlements to these funds.

“This question is untested and falls out of the process that questions are added to the census form,” Johnson-Blanco said. Impacts will be felt most by immigrant and undocumented communities who don’t trust the government to keep the information private, she said.

At the close of the briefing, panelists urged attendees to stay informed, contact their local representatives to vote against the citizenship question and to remain vigilant in the fight to protect minority groups from unfair targeting.

“Things will either go pretty bad or really bad,” Minnis said. “We need to stop this now.”

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law was formed at behest of JFK. Pres & ED @KristenClarkeJD. Support our fight for justice http://bit.ly/2a9L7JA

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