Attorney: Process behind Census question 'rotten'

Xavier Becerra, Eric Garcetti Photo: AP
Xavier Becerra, Eric Garcetti

February 15, 2019 02:52 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The process behind Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' decision to ask about people's citizenship status in a U.S. Census question was "rotten to its core" and failed to consider it would cost California money and at least one Congressional seat, an attorney for the state said Friday.

The state and some cities have filed lawsuits that seek to keep the question off the Census.

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Matthew Wise said during closing arguments in the lawsuit that Census officials warned Ross the question would reduce the percentage of immigrants who respond to the survey. The state says that would lead to an undercount that would jeopardize its federal funding and representation.

Census numbers are used to determine states' distribution of congressional seats and billions of dollars in federal funding.

The U.S. Justice Department says census officials take steps to guard against an undercount. Its lawyers were expected to make a closing argument before U.S. Judge Richard Seeborg later in the day.

Wise said Ross was determined to add the citizenship question and made up a justification to support it.

"The decision-making process in this case was not just unusual, it was extraordinary," he said.

The hearing came as the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a separate court ruling in New York that has so far blocked the administration from adding the question. That decision by U.S. Judge Jesse Furman came out last month.

Attorneys for the Justice Department and plaintiffs said Seeborg should still rule so the cases before him might also go before the Supreme Court. The judge was not expected to immediately issue a decision following closing arguments.

The lawsuits by California and cities in the state say asking people whether they are citizens of the U.S. is politically motivated and would discourage Latinos in particular from participating in the population count.

Seeborg heard nearly a week of testimony last month in the lawsuits.

The Justice Department argues that Census officials take steps such as making in-person follow-up visits to get an accurate count.

Households that skip the citizenship question but otherwise fill out a substantial portion of the questionnaire will still be counted, Justice Department attorneys said in court documents.

All households were last asked whether individuals were U.S. citizens in the 1950 census.

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Credits

By SUDHIN THANAWALA

(Copyright 2019 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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