California sues over ‘illegal’ citizenship question in Census, slams White House

"We're prepared to do what we must to protect California from a deficient Census."

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 22:  House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA). CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 22: House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA). CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images

California sued President Trump’s administration late Monday night after news broke that the Commerce Department will question U.S. residents about their citizenship status in the 2020 Census.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the suit shortly after the Commerce Department agreed to the question’s addition, pushed by the Department of Justice. The Census is used to determine and redraw congressional districts, in addition to allocating funds and taking a survey of the U.S. population. The Commerce Department argues that the addition of a citizenship question will help to enforce the Voting Rights Act and that the question has been asked historically. The question was last asked in 1950, according to NPR.

California maintains that the question is unconstitutional.

“We’re prepared to do what we must to protect California from a deficient Census,” Becerra said. “Including a citizenship question on the 2020 census is not just a bad idea – it is illegal.”


Under the Constitution, “actual Enumeration” is required every 10 years in the United States in order to allocate seats in Congress. That allotment is based on the “number of free persons” — something California’s lawsuit says a citizenship question would violate.

“It is long settled that all persons residing in the United States — citizens and non-citizens alike — must be counted to fulfill the Constitution’s ‘actual Enumeration’ mandate,” the suit argues.

Opponents of the citizenship question more broadly say it is unnecessary and will inevitably spark an inaccurate count. Immigrants and communities of color are likely to shy away from the Census, something that will have wide-reaching ramifications for a number of states.

Concerns are already arising over Texas, the second-biggest state in the country, with a number of large populations that are challenging to count — college students, lower income residents, and, most notably, a staggering Latinx community. Many have pointed to the possibility of the citizenship question as an underlying reason for why counting Texas could prove impossible — costing the state as many as three new seats in Congress.


California has similar concerns. An undercount could cost the state a representative, in addition to providing an unclear picture of the state’s actual makeup. Like Texas, California also has an outsized number of undocumented residents.

“The census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade,” Becerra said Monday. “California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump Administration to botch this important decennial obligation. What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to discourage an accurate census count.”

California won’t be alone. A statement from former Attorney General Eric Holder, who now heads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, indicated his organization will also sue.

“We will litigate to stop the Administration from moving forward with this irresponsible decision,” he said. “The addition of a citizenship question to the census questionnaire is a direct attack on our representative democracy.”

Around 74 percent of households responded to the 2010 Census. The White House has yet to comment on the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census.