Attorneys argue Trump has right to collect citizenship info

December 19, 2019 GMT

Attorneys for the Trump administration say the president has the right to order the U.S. Census Bureau to collect administrative records on citizenship.

The U.S. Department of Commerce asked a federal court in Maryland on Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Trump’s order.

T he motion filed by administration attorneys was the latest development among several lawsuits around the nation, deriving from the administration’s failed attempt to put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census questionnaire. After the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the question from being added last summer, Trump issued the order requiring the U.S. Census Bureau to obtain citizenship information from administrative records instead.

Civil rights groups challenged Trump’s order, worried that citizenship information will be used by states and local governments to redraw legislative boundaries using only U.S. citizens instead of the entire population. They argued doing so would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

Government lawyers argued in Wednesday’s court filing that the civil rights groups don’t have grounds to bring a lawsuit since they can’t point to anyone being harmed.

“Their injuries can only result from a highly attenuated chain of possibilities, including the independent decisions of states and localities to use (or not use) citizenship data,” said attorneys for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau.

The Department of Commerce has said it has enough administrative records to determine the citizenship of almost 90% of the U.S. population, and records collected from the order would only fill in the remaining gaps. In an effort to comply with the order, the Census Bureau has asked states for drivers’ license records, but only Nebraska has agreed.

Despite the Supreme Court’s rejection of it, litigation on the citizenship question is continuing in cases in Maryland, New York and Washington, as civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers question the Trump administration’s explanation for why it was requested in the first place.

The Trump administration claimed it was to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, but civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers have their doubts.

In Washington, Democratic lawmakers last month sued Ross and Attorney General William Barr for refusing to produce documents on the question’s origin. House Democrats have said a Trump administration adviser was in contact with Republican redistricting guru Thomas Hofeller during the drafting of the citizenship question. Hofeller has said that using voting-age citizens, instead of the total population, as the redistricting population base would help Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

In court papers filed on Tuesday, the Democratic lawmakers asked a judge to make a ruling without a need for a trial. They said they needed the documents now so they could conduct oversight on the president and pass any needed remedial legislation ahead of next year’s census, which will determine how many congressional seats each state gets and how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed.

“The stakes could not be more serious,” they said in their filing.


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