Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

Politico: “Schneiderman Will Lead Coalition to Sue Over Census’ Citizenship Question”

March 28, 2018

As published by Politico New York, on March 27, 2018.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Tuesday morning that he will lead a multistate coalition of attorneys general in a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s decision to bring back a question asking about citizenship status in the 2020 Census.

Schneiderman has previously hinted that he might pursue legal action if the federal government decided to ask the question. In a letter sent to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in February, he and 18 other attorneys general — including New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal — laid out several legal arguments why it should be dropped, saying that it would “deter participation” and “undermin[e] the constitutional mandate to conduct an ‘actual Enumeration’” of citizens.

On Monday night, the Commerce Department announced it would indeed reintroduce the question, which had been asked until 1960.

Schneiderman said in a release that he will soon lead his coalition of attorneys general in a multistate lawsuit challenging this decision.

“A fair and accurate count of all people in America is one of the federal government’s most solemn constitutional obligations,” he said in a release. “The Trump Administration’s reckless decision to suddenly abandon nearly 70 years of practice by demanding to know the citizenship status of each resident counted cuts to the heart of this sacred obligation — and will create an environment of fear and distrust in immigrant communities that would make impossible both an accurate Census and the fair distribution of federal tax dollars.”

With the election of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in New Jersey, Schneiderman has a new ally across the river in many of his fights against the Trump administration — an ally he didn’t enjoy in former Republican Gov. Chis Christie.

“Particularly in the current national climate, a citizenship question will obviously cause great consternation and discourage participation in the census,” said New Jersey Attorney General Grewal in a statement. “That lack of participation will inevitably have far-reaching, negative effects — particularly in New Jersey, where we have the third largest percentage of immigrants in the country.”

A number of other officials in New York and New Jersey quickly chimed in with their disapproval of the federal decision.

“The Trump administration’s decision to ask about citizenship on the U.S. Census is a gross political act that launches another missile at the heart of New York,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “Make no mistake: this decision is anti-immigrant and is intended only to serve the political agenda of those in power in Washington.”

Murhpy, too, warned of the dangers the question might pose.

“By injecting a citizenship question into the Census, the Trump administration is seeking to sow fear among immigrant communities and inject uncertainty into what should be a non-partisan process,” Murphy said in a statement. “The Constitution requires and the nation overwhelmingly needs an accurate and unassailable count. If New Jersey residents are afraid to be counted, it will have an impact on our ability to be properly represented in Congress and adequately funded when it comes to vital federal programs.”

State officials’ traditional concerns about the accuracy of the Census have been heightened since Trump took office. New York and New Jersey are among the most difficult states to count, due to high numbers of hard-to-tally rural residents, immigrants, and people who live in multifamily homes. In 2011, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated the city alone was undercounted by 225,000 people, resulting in a significant loss in federal funding over the subsequent decade.

With the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants and the inclusion of the citizenship question, there has been a fear that the states’ traditional problems could be exacerbated in two years.

“The Census counts all people regardless of citizenship, yet if Homeland Security is conducting raids in minority areas or businesses, that’s going to leave people trusting government even less,” Rockefeller Institute fellow Jeff Wice told POLITICO in December. “There’s less incentive to respond to a census form.”

Several legislators have been urging New York to do more to get ready for the count. Assemblyman Marcos Crespo has recently promoted legislation that would create a state commission tasked with developing strategies for reducing the likely undercount.