Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities Call on SCOTUS to Reject Citizenship Question in Census

Published on April 8th, 2019

Photo by Josh Sobel on Unsplash

The New York State Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, and Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, are calling on the United States Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling blocking a proposed question on citizenship from appearing on the 2020 U.S. Census. 

The Catholic entities, joining with other religious and secular human services organizations, filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief supporting a lawsuit brought by New York and several other states and entities against the United States Department of Commerce. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case April 23 following a favorable decision for the plaintiffs in federal district court in the Southern District of New York in January, which the government has appealed. 

In the brief, the organizations argue, first, that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Jr.’s decision to add a citizenship question violated the law because he failed to report to Congress well in advance of the census that he intended to do so. This failure, the amici argued, violates the separation of powers and “has a pernicious anti-democratic effect.”

Furthermore, they argued, the decision to add the citizenship question “will undoubtedly cause a severe undercount of noncitizen and Hispanic households” that would result in harm that “is hard to exaggerate,” both to the human services organizations and to the individuals they serve.

Because of the presumed undercounting, states like New York would see an “unwarranted reduction in and reallocation of governmental funding” from federal programs that distribute funds based on census data, the brief argues.

“Those funding cuts threaten to cause widespread social chaos,” according to the brief, which said social service agencies that serve vulnerable populations “will be pushed to the breaking point” as a result. The result would be that the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who depend on these services “will be (quite literally) left out in the cold, without the services which they need and on which they depend.”

“To make matters worse,” the brief stated, “resource scarcity threatens to foment conflict between diverse racial, ethnic, and religious groups at a time when, for various other reasons, such tensions are already sadly on the rise in this country.”

In addition to the Catholic entities, other organizations joining the amicus brief include the American Jewish Committee, Commission of Religious Leaders of New York City, Council of Peoples Organization, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Human Services Council, Jewish Association Serving the Aging, Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Jewish Education Project, New York Board of Rabbis, and UJA-Federation of New York.

The amicus brief was prepared by Eamon P. Joyce, Qais Ghafary, and David S. Kanter of Sidley Austin LLP.