By Jonathan Stempel
NEWYORK (Reuters) – A new lawsuit in New York accuses the Trump administration of starving the U.S. Census Bureau of necessary funding, likely causing an undercounting in the 2020 census of racial and ethnic minorities and depriving them of crucial federal funds.
In a complaint on Tuesday, the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Center for Popular Democracy Action and the city of Newburgh, New York said the government arbitrarily and capriciously slashed resources to count blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, the homeless and other members of “hard-to-count” communities.
They are seeking to set aside decisions to hire one-third as many enumerators who physically visit homes as in 2010, halve the number of census field offices and reduce community outreach, and ensure sufficient funding for the “actual enumeration” required by the U.S. Constitution.
“Defendants have been operating on the cheap,” the complaint said. “Given the size and scope of the decennial census, immediate relief is necessary.”
Census data are used to award billions of dollars of federal funds, as well as political representation. Critics of undercounting believe many hard-to-count communities are in areas more likely to vote for Democrats.
The Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which declined to comment on the lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau chief Steven Dillingham are also defendants.
Tuesday’s lawsuit came four weeks after the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, heard arguments on whether to revive a similar lawsuit by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Prince George’s County, Maryland.
A lower court judge dismissed that case in August, saying Congress’ appropriation of $3.55 billion for the 2020 census mooted the plaintiffs’ funding claim.
Both sets of plaintiffs are represented by students from Yale Law School’s Peter Gruber Rule of Law Clinic. It was not immediately available for comment.
The lawsuit came after President Donald Trump on July 11 abandoned his push for a citizenship question on the census.
Critics said adding the question would have discriminated against minorities, and helped Republicans like Trump by lowering responses in Democratic-leaning areas.
Newburgh is 65 miles (105 km) north of New York City, and has many black, Hispanic and undocumented people among its roughly 28,000 population. Its 57% response rate in the 2010 census was among the lowest in New York state.
Center for Popular Democracy Action represents workers, minorities and immigrants on issues of economic and racial justice.
The case is Center for Popular Democracy Action et al v Bureau of the Census et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-10917.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)