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Upset with citizenship question, NC takes Trump administration to court

NC Attorney General Josh Stein has joined a multi-state and multi-city effort to try to keep a question about citizenship out of the 2020 census questionnaire.
NC Attorney General Josh Stein has joined a multi-state and multi-city effort to try to keep a question about citizenship out of the 2020 census questionnaire. N&O file photo

Editor’s Note: Since publication, the N&O has learned that passages from this story were taken in large part or in whole from “17 States Sue the Trump Administration Over Census Citizenship Question” by Mother Jones without attribution. This is a violation of our standards. We apologize to our readers.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has joined an effort to block the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census.

In a multi-state move, 12 attorneys general filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday alleging that demanding such information could skew actual resident numbers in states with large immigrant populations.

That could threaten the fair allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars of federal grants and funding for education, roads and infrastructure, Stein and the other attorneys general stated. Additionally, census data are used to redraw political boundaries — from Congress to local school boards and commissions and allocate Electoral College seats.

“North Carolinians pay taxes to the federal government every year,” Stein said in a statement. “In return, they rightfully expect to receive our state’s fair share of federal funding for our roads and schools and an appropriate number of Representatives in Congress. That’s what an accurate Census provides for and why I will fight any effort to politicize it.”

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North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said he plans to appeal a state regulator's decision to let Duke Energy charge customers in Charlotte and elsewhere hundreds of millions of dollars in coal ash cleanup costs. Chris Seward The News & Observer

On March 26, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the reinstatement of the question, saying it was needed so the department could accurately measure the portion of the population eligible to vote. The question was added just five days before the deadline in a process that typically involves years of vetting and tests.

Critics contend the Republican administration has added the question to reduce the population count in predominantly Democratic areas where more immigrants reside the year before the next round of state and national redistricting takes place.

Six former Census directors, from Republican and Democratic administrations, sent a letter to Ross in January urging him not to include a citizenship question in the 2020 questionnaire after the U.S. Justice Department pushed for the addition.

“There is a well-proven multi-year process to suggest and test new questions,” the former directors stated. “We strongly believe that adding an untested question on citizenship status at this late point in the decennial planning process would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk. “

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed the lawsuit in the Southern District of New York.

New York has the third-largest immigrant population in the country, after California and Texas.

In addition to Schneiderman and Stein, attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia have joined the effort. The cities of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco, and Seattle also have sued, as well as the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The lawsuit says the new question “violates the constitutional mandate to conduct an ‘actual Enumeration’” of the country’s entire population, not just citizens, as well as a provision of the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act barring federal agencies from taking “arbitrary, capricious” actions.

The attorneys from the 17 states, the District of Columbia, and six major cities contend that “anti-immigrant policies, actions, and rhetoric” of the Trump administration “will amplify the negative impacts on census participation rates.”

“The Trump Administration has also made a number of threatening statements about deporting undocumented immigrants,” the lawsuit contends. “This anti-immigrant climate has led to significant public distrust and fear of providing information to the federal government. During recent pretests in preparation for the 2020 Census, Census Bureau researchers found that immigrant respondents are already increasingly concerned about confidentiality and data sharing in light of the current ant-immigrant rhetoric.”

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1