Trial over census lawsuit nears an end

Closing arguments begin Thursday in federal trial

Closing arguments begin Thursday in the federal trial related to the 2020 census, as well as a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration involving a local immigrant advocacy group and several others.

The lawsuit alleges Trump administration officials conspired to add a citizenship question to the census to discourage people in states with large immigrant communities from filling out the questionnaire, likely resulting in an undercount. It was filed earlier this year by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, on behalf of La Union del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and several others.

MALDEF’s lawsuit is also among several filed against the administration nationwide over the addition of the citizenship question.

The census determines the amount of funding given to the respective states based on the amount of people counted. This money funds government programs for federal highways, early childhood education and children’s health insurance, to name a few, according to data provided by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, or NALEO.

Prior to the lawsuits, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, announced the question’s inclusion in the decennial questionnaire in March, just days before the questionnaire was to be finalized.

This prompted condemnation and a rebuke by multiple attorneys general and the aforementioned subsequent lawsuits challenging the administration’s authority to add the question to the coming census.

In short, the MALDEF lawsuit alleges that Trump administration officials and others conspired to deprive immigrants of color of their constitutional rights to equal representation and to fair allocation of federal funds by adding a citizenship question to the census, which could potentially lead to the aforementioned group from participating in the count.

The lawsuit, LUPE v. Ross, was recently consolidated with Kravitz v. U.S. Department of Commerce, another challenge to the citizenship question filed with the Maryland court.

Co-conspirators named in the suit are Donald J. Trump, Ross, Stephen Bannon, who served at the time as White House advisor, and Kris Kobach, who then served as Kansas secretary of state, documents show.

The trial’s imminent end in Maryland follows news that the Supreme Court will “fast-track” the case — taking it from a U.S. district court in New York — and bypass any court circuit appeals.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman of New York ruled Jan. 15 that the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census was “unlawful,” and ordered it removed from the questionnaire.

In defense of the question’s inclusion, which has not been in the census since 1950, the DOJ website indicated the question’s reinstatement would “help enforce the Voting Rights Act.”

The DOJ and the administration are expected to appeal the New York decision.

At the heart of the plaintiffs’ case is Ross adding the citizenship question at the administration’s behest in an alleged effort to deter a certain segment of the population from participating.

Ross testified before Congress in late March that he added the citizenship question at DOJ’s request, but emails released as part of ongoing court challenges show that Ross was working to add the question before he received a letter from the DOJ in December 2017.

The suit alleged that Ross also ordered the addition of a citizenship question without prior assessment of its impact on an accurate count and without adequate explanation of why the question was necessary and how the information would be used.

“Although the government defendants allege that the question was added in response to a request by the U.S. Department of Justice in late 2017, trial evidence demonstrates that, in fact, the plan was devised in the White House in the early days of the Trump administration, and that the Department of Commerce initiated discussion with the Department of Justice to secure the request,” a MALDEF news release stated.

Counsel for MALDEF said an undercount of Latinos in the coming census would disproportionately impact immigrant communities throughout the country.

“We are prepared to provide the court with documentary and testimonial evidence that supports our request for reversal of this discriminatory act that will otherwise financially, socially and politically impact our communities for the next decade and beyond,” Denise M. Hulett, national senior counsel for MALDEF, said in a prepared statement.

The plaintiffs in this case and the others nationwide are requesting the court to stop Ross from implementing the question’s inclusion in the 2020 census, court records show.

Local county officials, who are part of the lawsuit, continue to promote the census because of how crucial a complete count is to the region.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez reiterated the importance of participation following the ruling in New York in mid-January.

“We know that adding a citizenship question would be detrimental to Hidalgo County and many areas of the United States, which is why we, in addition to Cameron and other counties, joined in the lawsuit,” Cortez said. “The census mandate is to count everyone that resides in the U.S. There have been challenges in the past and there will be challenges in the future, but I and commissioners court will continue to work diligently to make sure Hidalgo County is accurately counted and is provided the resources and tools we are due.”