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Minnesota joins lawsuit to block citizenship question on census forms

ST. PAUL—Minnesota joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia to sue the U.S. government Tuesday, April 3, saying the addition of a citizenship question to the census form is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit aims to block the Trump administration from adding the last-minute citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, also includes six cities and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors and comes a week after California sued the administration over the same issue.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the addition of the controversial question last week, triggering outcry from census experts, immigrant groups, and Democratic lawmakers, who stand to lose political power if, as many fear, undocumented immigrants and their families refuse to respond to the survey.

The suit names the Census Bureau and its acting director as well as the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees it, and Ross.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, in announcing that the state joined the lawsuit, said in a statement Tuesday that "the United States Constitution requires that a census be undertaken every 10 years to count every person in the United States. Census Bureau directors appointed by presidents of both political parties have not included a question about citizenship since 1950 — nearly seven decades ago — out of concern that it would result in an inaccurate count."

Swanson added, "An accurate count of the population is important to establish the rights and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments. Minnesota allocates state aid to counties and municipalities — such as local government aid, state aid for roads, and community corrections aid — using census results."

Swanson also said the census results are used to apportion congressional seats, to establish state legislative districts and to distribute to states an estimated $700 billion per year in federal dollars.

The lawsuit asserts that adding the question violates the mandate in the U.S. Constitution to conduct an "actual Enumeration" every 10 years to determine "the whole number of persons" in the United States, and calls the survey "one of the most critical constitutional functions our federal government performs."

As for the effect on counting the 43 million foreign-born people in the U.S., including an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, critics say even those who are citizens or who reside here legally could be reluctant to fill out the household-wide survey if others in their home are undocumented.

The lawsuit charges that minority and immigrant populations are already among the hardest to count and that adding a citizenship question at this point would reduce the response rate and would depart from the standard practice of researching and testing a new question for several years before adding it. It notes that in 1980 the Census Bureau fought back against a lawsuit to compel it to include a question about immigration status on the decennial survey, saying it would "severely jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count."

The Washington Post contributed to this report