Lisa Madigan sues to block Trump census move
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is filing suit to block a Trump administration decision to include a question on citizenship status in the 2020 census.
"The census is a fundamental part of our democracy. We must encourage every person in our country to participate, instead of putting up barriers to prevent people from being counted,” Madigan said in a statement released by her office. “I will take legal action to protect immigrant communities in Illinois and ensure they are represented fairly and accurately.”
One suit already has been filed by Madigan's California counterpart, Xavier Becerra. Another is being prepared by New York's Eric Schneiderman, and a spokeswoman for Madigan said she would participate in that action. All three of the top state legal officers are Democrats, and all three represent states with large immigrant populations that stand to lose political clout and federal funds if all residents are not counted.
The legal basis for action was not immediately available.
Madigan's move comes the same day that U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., harshly criticized the decision, calling it a "sinister" device to discourage Latinos from being counted.
In comments after a press conference on an unrelated matter, Durbin said the move could well cost Illinois an additional seat in Congress, as a state that already is losing people effectively loses more.
The census decision was announced in a letter released by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency includes the Census Bureau.
In the letter, Ross said the bureau was asked to consider including a question about citizenship status by the U.S. Department of Justice. The letter said the Justice Department wants to be able to use the data to enforce provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial, language-based and other kinds of discrimination in voting policies. But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other GOP leaders also have pushed tighter laws to ensure that illegal immigrants do not vote, even though Democratic leaders contend that such violations are rare.
Commerce "is not able to determine definitively how inclusion of a citizenship question on the decennial census will impact responsiveness," Ross wrote. "However, even if there is some impact on responses, the value of more complete and accurate data derived from surveying the entire population outweigh such concerns."
At another point in the letter, Ross appears to concede a "rough estimate" by the bureau that up to 630,000 households may decline to complete the census form with the new question, and will require some remedial follow-up. But the citizenship question will be "last" on the census form, and the census routinely included such a question as late as 1950, he said. The bureau also asks about citizenship in its American Community Survey of a sampling of the population every year, with non-response rates from Hispanics running twice as high as from non-Hispanic whites, the letter indicates.
Durbin termed the switch on policy "a big mistake at a time when the Trump administration is aggressively deporting people" for being in the country without legal right.
The census is the basis for congressional district apportionment, and for distributing billions of dollars in federal aid, he noted. If the question results in fewer people being counted even though they live here—by law, the census is supposed to count all residents, citizens and non-citizens, legal and illegal—Illinois and Chicago could lose, he said.
So could Democrats, who generally get a much bigger share of the Latino vote than Republicans. And ruling Washington Republicans would win.
Ross' letter indicates that by law, individual census results are supposed to be kept confidential. The question is whether people will believe that in today's political environment.