A coalition including nineteen state attorneys general and the Governor of Colorado is urging Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to reject the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent request to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. In a letter to Secretary Ross, the coalition—which represents states from across the country—explains that adding a citizenship question would depress participation in the census, jeopardizing the accuracy of its headcount and triggering a string of other harms, from undermining the once-in-a-decade process of apportioning congressional seats to depriving states of funds necessary to meet their residents’ needs.
Beyond highlighting the serious, practical harms of including a citizenship question on the census, the letter points to potential legal problems with doing so. According to the attorneys general, citizenship information is not—contrary to the Department of Justice’s claims—necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act and may well undermine it. They further contend that adding a citizenship question would violate both the Constitution and other federal laws and policies.
No citizenship questions have appeared on the census forms sent to all households since the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965. In urging the Secretary Ross to reject the citizenship question, the state attorneys general echo the warnings recently voiced by leading civil rights organizations and good government groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice. Secretary Ross faces a March 31 deadline for placing any new questions on the census.