Common Cause Files Brief in California’s Challenge to Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

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SAN FRANCISCO — Common Cause, joined by current and former elected and appointed Republican officials, today filed an amici brief in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in support of the California State’s challenge to the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.  

The brief filed in State of California v. U.S. Department Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Jr., emphasizes that the U.S. Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee the right of every resident of the United States to be represented by a member of Congress, not every citizen or voter. Secretary Ross’s addition of the citizenship question will cause undercounts in areas with large non-citizen populations resulting in a Congress that will not be equally apportioned by population, thus the question should be removed, the brief states.  

“When fear and distrust depress the census response in some areas more than others, those areas in which the response has been reduced lose political clout as well as funding for local programs, hurting long-time residents, citizens, and newly arrived immigrants,” the brief states.  

“Differential undercounts do not merely impact undocumented individuals, or lawful permanent residents, or minority citizens; everyone in an area with depressed census participation also loses clout and cash.  Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census will cause an undercount in any community that thrives because of non-citizens by depressing response rates—whether that area is an urban minority community or a rural area dependent on immigrant farm laborers.” 

The state of California provides an illuminating example. Its major cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland contain huge immigrant non-citizen populations. Its rural areas such as the Central Valley are heavily dependent on immigrant or migrant farmworkers, predominantly from Mexico.   

“If the 2020 Census count is not accurate, California stands to lose federal aid and congressional seats,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Adding a citizenship question, particularly in this political climate, undermines the intentions and guarantees of the United States Constitution. We trust the California court, like the New York court, will recognize this fact and move to ensure the equal representation for every resident.” 

This is the second legal challenge expected to rule against the addition of the citizenship question. On January 15, Judge Jesse Furman of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan issued a stinging 277-page opinion that said Ross broke “a veritable smorgasbord” of federal rules when he ordered the citizenship question added to the census.

Fellow amici include New Hampshire State Representative Jody L. McNally, (R-District 10 Stratford), retired Republican Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Robert Orr and former Republican Federal Election Commission Chair Trevor Potter. 

Amici are represented by Mary Kelly Persyn of Persyn Law & Policy and Gregory L. Diskant, Aron Fischer, Benjamin F. Jackson, and Jacob Newman of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP.

Read the brief here.