Trump may face more court battles over giving citizenship data to states
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[July 15, 2019]
By Nick Brown and Lauren Tara LaCapra
(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's
order that all federal agencies provide citizenship data to the Commerce
Department could open a new legal front over whether states can redraw
their voting maps based on citizenship status.
Trump dropped the effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020
census on Thursday following a recent defeat in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Instead, he ordered other federal agencies, including the Department of
Homeland Security and Social Security Administration, to provide
The Census Bureau can combine such information with citizenship data it
receives from a population tally called the American Community Survey
(ACS), which is based on a smaller sample than the once-a-decade census.
If states use citizenship data provided by the federal government to
redistrict, it would likely shift power toward Republicans, as Reuters
reported in April https://reut.rs/2G9v8to. But it would also trigger a
new wave of litigation, some advocates and redistricting specialists
Potential plaintiffs could claim that citizen-only redistricting
violates the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and other laws
barring discrimination against minority groups.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will "monitor and watch what
the federal government is doing and be very vigilant for any
redistricting issues that might arise," Sarah Brannon, managing attorney
for the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said on a call with journalists on
"We will sue as necessary," she said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on potential
Congress and state legislatures both rely on census data to determine
how many political seats districts should get. As it stands, all
residents count, regardless of citizenship or legal status.
But there has been a fierce political debate about whether that should
change, especially in state districting.
In his remarks on Thursday, Trump noted that some states may want to
draw state and local districts based on eligible voters. He has
repeatedly said that asking residents about their citizenship status is
important and should not be controversial.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) would
also sue if there is an attempt to use anything but a full population
count to distribute political seats, the group's general counsel Thomas
Saenz said in an interview.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) is also keeping a close eye on
developments, said its president John Yang.
Both groups and the ACLU have been plaintiffs in litigation regarding
the proposed census citizenship question.
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump delivers remarks on supporting the passage of
the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade deal during a visit to Derco
Aerospace Inc., a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, U.S., July 12, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria?
The Census Bureau must present redistricting data to state
legislatures by April 1, 2021. But litigation could happen much
sooner, experts said.
Before the Census Bureau sends information to states, it needs to
file a notice in the Federal Register, triggering a comment period
when advocates would likely raise objections, said Jeff Wice, a
Democratic redistricting adviser.
Anything that "furthers the Trump administration's goal to weaken
representation for immigrant populations" could be a trigger, he
Lawsuits could take many forms. Plaintiffs could sue legislative
bodies that try to employ citizen-based voting maps, or may go after
the Trump administration itself for providing the data.
One potential defense is a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as
In that ruling, justices rejected arguments from Texas Republicans
that legislative districts should be based on the number of eligible
voters. But the Court stopped short of ruling on whether a state
could use metrics like citizenship to draw voting maps.
Many scholars have said Evenwel leaves the door open for a state to
draw maps based on its citizen population.
The state of Alabama sued the federal government last year, arguing
that congressional apportionment should exclude non-citizens.
Legal scholars see the case as a long shot, but U.S. Attorney
General William Barr appeared to reference the lawsuit on Thursday.
"There is a current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be
included for apportionment purposes," Barr said. "Depending on the
resolution of that dispute, this data may be relevant to those
considerations. We will be studying this issue."
In the meantime, New Jersey Senator and U.S. presidential candidate
Cory Booker introduced a bill on Wednesday to block the Census
Bureau from including citizenship data in the digital file it sends
(Reporting by Nick Brown and Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York;
Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Noeleen
Walder and Chizu Nomiyama)
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