“In short, the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census threatens the very foundation of our democratic system — and does so based on a self-defeating rationale,” U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California wrote in his 126-page opinion.
Seeborg is now the second federal judge to rule against the inclusion of the question on the 2020 census. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York issued an earlier ruling halting Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s plan to include the question.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hold an April 23 hearing on Furman’s ruling, and Seeborg’s decision will also likely land before the high court.
Attorneys for the state of California argued in court last week that including the question “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” on the census would undermine its accuracy, costing the state millions.
“The citizenship question will provide a differential undercount of Latinos and noncitizens, and by extension, Californians,” Deputy Attorney General Matthew Wise said in court. “California’s budget line item for census outreach swelled from a pre-citizenship question allocation of $43.3 million to a final allocation of $90.3 million.”
An undercount of Latino citizens could even cost the state a seat in Congress, Wise agued.
The Trump administration argues that including the question on the census will aid in enforcing the Voting Rights Act and protect minorities from discrimination.
Seeborg called that rationale a “sham justification” and sided with the lawyers for California.
“This question is, however, quite effective at depressing self-response rates among immigrants and noncitizens, and poses a significant risk of distorting the apportionment of congressional representation among the states,” Seeborg wrote.
Attorney John Libby, a partner with the law firm that represented San Jose, Calif., in the case, hailed the judge’s decision.
“Judge Seeborg found significant violations of Congressional requirements and administrative procedure in Secretary Ross’s decision. We are pleased with this ruling, and look forward to defending it, including in the Supreme Court.” Libby said in an emailed statement.
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