Attorney General James Leads Fight Against Trump Administration’s Attempts to Reduce Census Efforts

AG James Argues Reduction in Time for Census Self-Response and
Door-to-Door Follow-Up Will Lead to Substantial Undercount

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced she has led a large coalition of attorneys general, cities, and counties from around the nation, as well as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in taking legal action against the Trump Administration’s impairment of the 2020 Decennial Census. Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it was reducing — by an entire month, from October 31 to September 30 — the time in which self-response questionnaires will be accepted and door-to-door follow-ups by census enumerators will take place. Attorney General James and the coalition filed an amicus brief in National Urban League v. Ross, supporting the plaintiffs’ request for a nationwide stay or preliminary injunction to halt this “Rush Plan.” The coalition argues, in the brief, that this expedited schedule will hamstring the bureau’s ongoing efforts to conduct the census and will thus impair the accuracy of its enumeration of the total population of each state.

“The Trump Administration’s efforts to reduce the time for the collection of census data is just the latest in a long list of efforts taken to undermine the census and manipulate the population count to the president’s liking,” said Attorney General James. “New York and numerous other states across the country are already falling behind in responding to the census as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and a multitude of other factors, so now is not the time to be decreasing response periods. We will fight this action, like we have previous actions taken by this administration to undermine the count, and we will win. We will continue this fight until we have a census count that is truly reflective of our population. Everyone counts, therefore everyone must be counted.”

In the brief — filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California — Attorney General James leads the coalition of 23 attorneys general, five cities, four counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors in arguing that New York and other amici have a direct stake in this dispute, as the decennial census determines the states’ political representation in Congress, provides critical data for the states’ own redistricting efforts, and affects hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding to states and localities. An inaccurate census will directly impair those interests, inflicting harms that will persist for the next decade. The administration’s efforts to reduce the time for both self-responses of the questionnaire sent to every household across the country, as well as non-response follow-up operations for those who don’t respond, will inevitably harm the accuracy of the population count. The shorter time period also flies in the face of what the Census Bureau previously said itself was necessary to conduct an accurate count, as it alters the deadline that the bureau had adopted specifically to accommodate the unique difficulties posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

An undercount would severely impact New York and other immigrant-rich states. A district court previously found — in the litigation over the citizenship question — that even a small undercount would raise a “significant risk of an apportionment loss” to New York and other similar states. Such a loss would deprive these states of political power in Congress for a decade, hampering their efforts to serve their residents and depriving them of the representation to which they would otherwise be entitled. The undercount would also affect harm within states since census data is used for redistricting of state legislative seats as well.

Additionally, an undercount would affect hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funding that are dependent on the decennial census’s population count. In particular, at least 18 federal programs distribute financial assistance based in whole or in part upon each state’s relative share of the total U.S. population. Numerous other programs distribute funds based off of census data as well.

Further, self-response rates for 2020 lag behind the rates for 2010 in most states, including in New York. And — due to numerous factors, including New York’s large immigrant population — the state’s self-response rate remains below the national rate.

The coalition goes on to argue that the court should not view this Rush Plan in a vacuum. The very integrity of the 2020 Decennial Census is at stake, and the defendants — the U.S. Department of Commerce, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Census Bureau, and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham — have all repeatedly attempted to manipulate the census, in multiple ways, under the direction of President Donald Trump by previously attempting to add a citizenship question to the census and by excluding undocumented immigrants from the population count that will be used for congressional apportionment — both matters in which Attorney General James has led lawsuits to challenge. The attorneys general highlight that all three of these efforts disregard unambiguous constitutional or statutory requirements, consciously deviate from centuries of consistent practice, and fail to deal honestly with the public and the courts.

The filing of this amicus brief is just the latest in a long list of actions Attorney General James has taken to protect the integrity of the 2020 Decennial Census. In 2018, the Office of the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration in response to its efforts to add a citizenship question to the census. That suit made its way through multiple courts, eventually landing in the U.S. Supreme Court last year, where the court ruled, last June, in favor of New York by prohibiting the Trump Administration from adding the citizenship question to the census. In August of last year, Attorney General James moved to intervene in a separate census case in Alabama where the federal government were defendants, in an effort to ensure the case is properly presented and that every resident in America — irrespective of citizenship status — is counted in the decennial census. Additionally, just last month, Attorney General James led the filing of another lawsuit against the Trump Administration after it announced new efforts attempting to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment base following the census count, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Joining Attorney General James in filing this amicus brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. The attorneys general are joined by the cities of Central Falls, RI; Columbus, OH; Philadelphia, PA; and Pittsburgh, PA. Additionally, Cameron, El Paso, and Hidalgo Counties in Texas; Howard County in Maryland; and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors joined the amicus brief as well.

This matter was handled by Deputy Solicitor General Steven C. Wu and Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood — both of the Division for Appeals and Opinions.