The Trump Administration has agreed to pay California $850,00 for legal fees from the Golden State’s successful battle to keep a citizenship question off 2020 Census forms.
California and New York, along with civil rights groups, filed separate lawsuits after the Commerce Department in 2018 announced that the census form would include the citizen question–something that had not been done since the 1950s. The ostensible rationale for the question was that the information was needed so the Justice Department could better enforce the Voting Rights Act by determining who exactly was eligible to vote.
But California officials and civil rights groups and officials in other states immediately blasted the move as a discriminatory ploy.
Federal judges, later backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, agreed with them.
“The citizenship question is the latest attempt by President Trump to stoke the fires of anti-immigrant hostility,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said when California sued. “Now, in one fell swoop, the US Commerce Department has ignored its own protocols and years of preparation in a concerted effort to suppress a fair and accurate census count from our diverse communities. The administration’s claim that it is simply seeking to protect voting rights is not only laughable, but contemptible.”
The fear among California officials and other opponents was that including the question would scare off what were politely called “non-citizens” (illegal immigrants) as well as other immigrants from completing the form.
Then populations would be under counted and states could lose federal funds. For every person not counted, California would have lost $2000 per year in federal funding over the ensuing decade, with potential losses estimated by Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) at billions of dollars if millions of people were scared off from participating.
California argued that the census question violated the federal constitutional requirement of “actual enumeration”–basically meaning everybody must be counted.
“It is long settled that all persons residing in the United States — citizens and non-citizens alike — must be counted to fulfill the Constitution’s ‘actual Enumeration’ mandate,” the lawsuit contended.
The lawsuit also said that the requirement was exactly the kind of “arbitrary and capricious action” that was barred by the federal Administrative Procedure Act.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra made clear in his statement about the litigation that allowing the question would be a big negative for the Golden State.
“The census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade,” he asserted. “California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump Administration to botch this important decennial obligation. What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to discourage an accurate census count.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of California in March 2019 agreed with the Golden State that the question violated the federal administrative law as well as the Constitution and would result in inaccurate census counts.
“The record in this case has clearly established that including the citizenship question on the 2020 Census is fundamentally counterproductive to the goal of obtaining accurate citizenship data about the public,” Seeborg wrote. “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.”
Welcoming the decision Beccerra said that, “Justice has prevailed for each and every Californian should raise their hands to be counted in the 2020 Census without being discouraged by a citizenship question.”
“We celebrate this ruling, an important step in protecting billions of dollars meant for critical services Californians rely on, from education, to public health and safety.”
After losing in California and New York and Maryland the Trump Administration appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Court ruled in June that the government could not include the question unless it provided a legitimate reason for doing so and had not thus far, calling the rationale “contrived.”
The next month, President Trump announced that he would drop his bid for the Commerce Department to put the question on the census.
California was able to get the money because of a federal law that allows the winners in lawsuits against the government to collect legal fees.