The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and law firm Goodwin Procter LLP today filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm a lower court ruling in Department of Commerce v. New York, which rejected the U.S. Department of Commerce’s deceptive attempt to add a citizenship status question to the 2020 census as purportedly necessary to defend voting rights. In a well-reasoned opinion, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the Commerce Department violated the Administrative Procedure Act and ordered the removal of the question from the decennial census.
“Attempting to add a citizenship status question to the once-a-decade census is an anti-democratic ploy to erase noncitizen, immigrant, and people of color from the census count, depriving them of fair representation and access to resources,” said Leah C. Aden, LDF’s Deputy Director of Litigation. “Even before this administration’s attempt to add a citizenship status question—for the first time in 70 years—the Census Bureau already had difficulties counting communities of color and this scheme would only exacerbate those issues. This administration should be working to eliminate the persistent undercount of Black communities, not amplify it.”
As an organization that has successfully used the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) to protect the voting rights of Black communities for decades, LDF’s brief unequivocally rejects the Department’s baseless assertion that the citizenship status question is necessary to enforce Section 2 of the VRA. The brief notes that the collection of citizenship status data from every U.S. household has never been needed to uphold voting rights under Section 2, and emphasizes that civil rights laws should not be used as pretext to justify a policy that will undermine the very communities that Congress enacted Section 2 to protect.
“The history of the census is marked by manipulation and discrimination, from counting enslaved Black people as three-fifths of a person to the ongoing substantial undercount of the Black population,” said Aaron Sussman, Law & Policy Fellow at LDF. “Today, the harm that would be caused by the use of a citizenship status question is sharply amplified by the climate of fear stoked by racism and xenophobia at the highest levels of government. The census should be a snapshot of the present, but the citizenship question reflects a shameful past.”
Census data is crucial for allocating billions of dollars in federal funding annually, as well as apportioning congressional seats, determining states’ Electoral College votes, developing electoral lines at all levels of government, and addressing barriers to equal opportunity in voting rights, education, housing, and criminal justice.
Read the full brief here.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.