A group based at the Georgetown University Law Center filed an amicus brief Feb. 11 contesting a push by the U.S. Department of Commerce to add a question to the 2020 census regarding citizenship status.
The addition of a citizenship question would cause an estimated 630,000 households to not complete the 2020 census, according to a U.S. Census Bureau memo issued Jan. 19. Households may interpret the citizenship question as an effort to use the census to find immigrants without documentation or target ethnic groups, according to a 2018 study commissioned by the Census Bureau.
The brief, filed by the Institution for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, was submitted on behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives. ICAP contends that the citizenship question would decrease the census’ accuracy, according to Joshua Geltzer, ICAP executive director and visiting professor at the Law Center.
“Adding it would thwart the constitutionally mandated goal of the decennial census, which is to determine an actual and accurate count of everyone present in the United States,” Geltzer wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Judge Jesse Furman of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan blocked the Commerce Department’s attempt to add a citizenship question last month, citing a faulty decision-making process led by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr. that included cherry-picked facts, manipulated evidence and hidden deliberations, according to The New York Times.
The Supreme Court decided Feb. 15 to hear the case. Given that the 2020 census forms must be printed in June, the Supreme Court has fast-tracked the case, which is set to appear before the court in the second week of the April argument session.
Furman’s ruling is a key concern of the brief, according to Geltzer. In 1996, the Supreme Court held that Congress is responsible for conducting an accurate count of people living in each state, including noncitizens, to determine House representation. The brief argues that this decision means the Census Bureau, while it has authority over the mechanics of census data collection, cannot add a citizenship question to the census.
“Congress, through federal law, has made clear the importance of certain forms of oversight and certain constraints in delegating authority to the Census Bureau to carry out the decennial census; and a federal judge in New York correctly found the Census Bureau’s efforts to add this question to violate Congress’s clear direction,” Geltzer wrote.
Launched at the Law Center in August 2017, ICAP uses litigation to defend rights granted by the U.S. Constitution. By bringing forth original constitutional challenges, filing briefs and supporting the litigation efforts of its partners, ICAP aims to protect the rights and values laid out in the constitution, according to Geltzer.
“Our work at ICAP has included a number of efforts to defend voting rights by protecting the census process, including by articulating concerns about the Census Bureau’s leadership and calling attention to cybersecurity concerns regarding America’s first electronic census in 2020, so weighing in on this important case was a natural fit for our mission,” Geltzer wrote.
The ultimate goal of the brief is to aid in the reinforcement of the district court’s ruling, Geltzer wrote.
“We look forward to seeing the Court’s decision, which we hope will be an affirmance of the district court’s thorough and well-reasoned decision,” Geltzer wrote.