Today, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a partial victory to challengers of the citizenship question in the 2020 U.S. Census, saying the Secretary of Commerce was legally allowed to add the question, but calling his rationale “contrived” and unsupported by the evidence. The Court thus remanded the case, leaving it up to the Secretary to offer up a new, credible reason for adding the question.
“The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “The explanation provided here was more of a distraction.”
“The Supreme Court rightly called out the administration today on its blatant misrepresentations about the citizenship question,” said Eva A. Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and Chair of the Statewide Complete Count Committee. “Though we wish that today’s decision had struck down the question once and for all, we will not waver.”
“To any Massachusetts resident wondering what happens now,” she added, “we say emphatically: Stand up and be counted. Massachusetts is already mobilizing to ensure a complete count. We won’t let anyone be made invisible.”
Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey and top advocates, community leaders and experts gathered on the State House steps to hail the decision and renew their commitment to ensuring that Massachusetts is fully counted in the Census, no matter what the final outcome of the litigation.
Beth Huang, Director of the Massachusetts Voter Table and convener of the MassCounts, a coalition of nonprofits preparing and mobilizing for the 2020 Census, stressed that the resulting data will determine political representation and the allocation of billions of dollars in federal funds for health care, housing, education and other crucial services.
“It’s not over yet, and we will keep working to ensure that the question about citizenship stays off the 2020 Census. We know that the Census must be as accurate as possible to keep marginalized communities from losing even more of the resources and representation they deserve,” Huang said.
Statisticians at the Census Bureau have estimated that adding a question about citizenship would reduce response rates in households that include non-citizens by 8 percentage points, and the total response rate by 2.2 percentage points. This would increase costs and leave affected communities with less political representation and fewer resources than they’re entitled to.
However, Huang stressed that even in the current political climate, Census data are protected by the strictest confidentiality protections in federal law. The Census Bureau cannot share individual-level data with federal agencies, immigration authorities, law enforcement, or courts of law. Federal law also does not allow personal census information to be used against someone by immigration authorities, a court of law, local housing agencies, any law enforcement agency, or any other government officials, for any reason whatsoever.
Gladys Vega, Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative, which has mobilized thousands of immigrants to participate in the decennial censuses since 1990, said the citizenship question “is part of a larger campaign of hate and intimidation” that immigrant communities have faced under the current administration.
“In a political climate of fear and distrust, the U.S. Census Bureau and advocates will need to work twice as hard to build trust and reassure community members,” Vega said. “We are committed to ensuring a complete count, and if any federal agency attempts to use personal data obtained through the Census, in violation of federal law, we will fight back.”
Alexie Torres, Chair of the Massachusetts Census Equity Fund, which has raised over $1.2 million for community outreach for the 2020 Census, urged all residents to participate.
“People are understandably fearful,” Torres said. “But avoiding the Census would only increase the undercount and deprive communities of critical resources. It plays into what the administration wants – a Census that doesn’t include our marginalized communities. Participating in the Census is the best way to protest the administration’s efforts to erase certain communities from our nation’s diverse portrait.”