Posted by Tess Waggoner on April 23, 2019 in Blog


April 23, 2019

CONTACT: Tess Waggoner | | (202) 429-9210

AAI Statement on Supreme Court Oral Arguments on Census Citizenship Question 

WASHINGTON, DC – Maya Berry, Executive Director of the Arab American Institute, made the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Department of Commerce v. New York, which asks whether a question about citizenship can be added to the 2020 census questionnaire:

“The decennial census is supposed to be a matter of mandated constitutional procedure. It is not supposed to be politicized. Our political representation and the resources local communities rely on are on the line. We have to come together and work to save the census, to ensure a fair and accurate count.”

At the center of the case is whether Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, in deciding to add an untested, last-minute question that will negatively affect response rates, acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner and therefore violated federal administrative law. A second concern is whether the imposition of a citizenship question runs afoul of the Constitution, which requires an "actual enumeration" of people living in the United States. Regarding the former, AAI filed an amicus brief arguing that Secretary Ross's decision should be viewed in light of the meticulous and data-driven two-decade process involved in proposing a MENA (Middle Eastern or North African) category to the decennial census form. 

Despite years of research, testing, and review—all of which suggesting a new category would improve response rates for Arab Americans and other participants of Middle Eastern or North African descent—the Census Bureau decided not to include the category on the 2020 census. In sharp contrast, and against the recommendations of career Census Bureau officials, Secretary Ross decided to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census with no substantive testing, not to mention research indicating such an addition would harm the accuracy of the count. Regarding the amicus brief, Berry said:

“We filed this brief because decades of experience working on the census, especially our efforts to increase representation of the Arab American community, have given us an important perspective on what is at stake in this case about the Trump Administration's last-minute attempted inclusion of an untested question. The outcome of the Supreme Court's ruling on the addition of the citizenship question will impact many communities, including Arab Americans. We remain focused on protecting our community by protecting the census."