PILF Granted Amicus Position Defending 2020 Census Citizenship Question at Trial

Published On: October 30th, 2018

(NEW YORK, NY.) – October 30, 2018: The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) received leave to file an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Southern District of New York in support of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s positions at trial regarding the proposed citizenship question for the 2020 Census.

The United States is currently defending the reinstatement of a citizenship question on the general 2020 Census survey against multiple lawsuits brought by the State of New York and others. The Foundation was previously granted entry before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to share the value the citizenship data would have in federal voting rights law.

Collecting robust citizenship data in the 2020 Census is good government policy,” PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said. “Citizenship data helps the Justice Department and private parties protect voting rights. I know the Trump administration is correct about this because I’ve won voting rights cases in federal court because citizenship data has been available in the past.”

The proposed brief notes:

The DOJ, as statutorily designated enforcer of the Voting Rights Act, understands the importance of a “reliable calculation of the citizen voting age population in localities where voting rights violations are alleged or suspected.”

The Foundation offers four arguments related to voting rights enforcement.

Disagreement between current and former executive political appointees cannot serve as evidence of discriminatory intent

Plaintiffs are conjuring evidence of discriminatory intent due to administrative policy changes after an election. The brief notes: “Plaintiffs repeatedly attempt to tarnish the legitimate need for reinstating the citizenship question with political rhetoric … Elections must mean something, and an executive may depart from the policies of the prior executive” without crossing discriminatory boundaries.

Robust citizenship data is necessary to determine if redistricting maps properly protect minority voters

In the decades-long absence of general citizenship data provided by the Census, the DOJ had to selectively employ citizenship estimates – yet only in jurisdictions where such data were available. Without it, DOJ and others live in a statistical fog to determine whether a minority group is sufficiently large and geographically compact to necessarily yield a single-member district. In one example, DOJ officials had difficulty discerning differences between eligible African-Americans and resident Caribbean noncitizens when assessing the fairness of city council boundaries. The Foundation notes seven additional cases where citizenship data was clearly used to make DOJ redistricting cases since 2001.

Previous Census citizenship data was critical in deciding a voting rights case in 2017

Citizenship data derived from the 1950 Census helped a trial court in Guam determine in the 21st Century that a “Native Inhabitants” standard for voter registration was a race-based discriminatory measure against mainland American citizens. The DOJ currently promotes the use of the 1950 data as Guam appeals the summary judgment finding to the 9th Circuit.

Citizenship data helps facilitate private efforts to enforcing voting laws

Census data are critical to determining which jurisdictions are falling behind federal mandates to maintain voter rolls free from bloat and corrupted entries. Courts have repeatedly relied on the ratio between registered voters and resident citizens in a locale as valuable insights—yet the citizenship data in its current form is not without flaws and can risk skewed interpretations. Improved data quality will also help empower private interests to ensure that federal law is being followed.  

The brief was filed in support of the Government’s position at trial before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in New York et. al. v. U.S. Department of Commerce, No. 1:18-cv-02921 (which was consolidated with New York Immigration Coalition, et al. v. U.S. Department of Commerce, No. 1:18-cv-5025). Related filings can be found, here.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation is the nation’s most active public interest law firm dedicated to enforcing the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and ensuring the integrity of American elections – bringing more than a dozen cases to enforce voter list maintenance obligations and inspection rights under federal law in federal courts across the nation in addition to serving as amicus in more than a dozen voting law cases. The Foundation also works with election officials and policymakers to improve the integrity of elections.

Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) is a 501(c)(3) public interest law firm dedicated to election integrity. The Foundation exists to assist states and others to aid the cause of election integrity and fight against lawlessness in American elections. Drawing on numerous experts in the field, the Foundation seeks to protect the right to vote and preserve the Constitutional framework of American elections.


Public Interest Legal Foundation