SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The attorney representing Cameron and Hidalgo counties on the issue of a citizenship question being added to the 202 Census has given his reaction to a new ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I am ecstatic with the court’s decision,” said Rolando Rios. “We were talking about billions of dollars in federal funds being lost to South Texas and also potentially a number of state legislative and congressional districts for South Texas being taken away.”
The Justice Department had argued that the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross wanted a citizenship question added to the 2020 census form because it helped enforce the Voting Rights Act. Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice John Roberts said that explanation was not convincing and sent the issue back to a lower court.
The New York Times reported the ruling this way:
“By ruling that the Trump administration offered no credible reason for proposing the question, the justices placed a daunting hurdle before the government, which must print questionnaires and other 2020 census documents within months, if not weeks, to keep the head count on schedule.
“The administration would have to create a new rationale for adding the question and win the approval of a skeptical district court, which ruled that its stated reason for the question — to better enforce the Voting Rights Act — was a bald contrivance hiding some other motive.
“The Census Bureau itself has said that adding the question would lead more non-citizens and minority residents to avoid being counted. Because most of these people live in predominantly Democratic areas, the undercount would weaken Democratic representation in states with large numbers of non-citizens, and skew the allotment of billions of federal dollars away from those areas.”
Representing Hidalgo and Cameron counties, San Antonio-based attorney Rios has litigation before a federal court in Maryland while the case heard by the Supreme Court came out of New York. He said they were separate and similar cases.
Rios said having a citizenship question on the 2020 Census would be extremely damaging to the Rio Grande Valley.
“With the citizenship question on the census form, the Rio Grade Valley could potentially lose three state representatives from the legislature, with the Democrats dropping statewide from 54 to 47 seats,” Rios said.
“Also, because of its population growth, Texas could be entitled to anywhere from two to four new congressional districts. But, because of the citizenship question, we could lost two seats. This is how big it is.”
Asked how he knows the Valley would lose political representation and federal dollars if a citizenship question was posed on the census form, Rios said:
“Hidalgo and Cameron counties alone spent over $100,000 hiring an expert out of UCLA, Dr. Matt Barreto, to survey that question. We were able to establish that anywhere between eight to 15 percent of respondents would not respond if the citizenship question was there, among the Latino community.”
Barreto is co-founder of Latino Decisions, a polling organization, and a political science professor at the University of California-Los Angeles.
“Dr. Barreto asked his question across the country and we had 800 people surveyed in Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Between eight to 12 percent said they would not fill out the form if the citizenship question was in there and they would if it wasn’t. Clear evidence.”
Rios said Barreto’s surveys were “instrumental” in the submissions he made on behalf of Cameron and Hidalgo counties in a federal court in Maryland.
“We were also part of the whole nationwide survey that surveyed Hispanics across the whole country. That was the basis for the evidence. It showed that the citizenship question would lead basically to a violation of the enumeration clause (in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution) which basically says the government is supposed to count everybody every ten years. This would not result in a count. This would subvert a count.”
Rios said the case against a citizenship question being added to the 2020 Census will be strengthened when new evidence is submitted. He said the new evidence relates to the work of the late Tom Hofeller, a redistricting expert hired by the Republican National Committee. Asking census respondents whether they are U.s. citizens “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites,” Hofeller’s analysis found.
“When the new evidence came out about Dr. Hofeller, who was basically the chief gerrymanderer for the Republic Party nationwide, it showed the true basis for why the Trump administration was trying to use the citizenship question. That blew the case wide open again because it showed that the reason that the Trump administration gave for having a citizenship question, which was to enforce the Voting Rights Act was nothing but bullhorn,” Rios said.
“The true reason was to minimize the number of Democratic districts and to not count Latinos. When that evidence came out it became a new ball game. The Trump administration lied to the federal judges. It has opened up a whole new front. That is why the case has been sent back.”
Rios added that he was disappointed that Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick had sided with the Trump administration on the issue of the citizenship question.
“It is a very serious matter and it is sad that the governor and the lieutenant governor of Texas were not even in the litigation. In fact, they were on the Trump administration’s side. The State of Texas does not provide leadership for the whole state. It is basically compromising the rights of the Valley.”
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño’s Perspective
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., issued this statement about the Supreme Court ruling:
“Cameron County has been a named plaintiff in a lawsuit against the inclusion of a citizenship question in the Census for many months now. The 2020 Census is coming up soon and we believe the inclusion of the question will suppress and prevent persons in the United States from responding and being counted. The purpose of the Census according to the Constitution is to count persons in the country not citizens. The Census is used for the allocation of congressional seats and the distribution of billions of federal dollars to state and local governments for the next decade. An undercount would cost our County many millions of federal dollars being lost.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the integrity and the accuracy of the Census. We and many other cities, counties and states believe that the reason given by the Administration that the purpose of the question was to help enforce the Voting Rights Act is demonstrably false, as shown by the evidence. So the United States Supreme Court has ruled that while an administration may in proper circumstances include a question on citizenship, the testimony about the true reason is suspect and needs to be looked at further. It is our hope that this ruling will prevent inclusion of the question since it would certainly result in an undercount of minorities and in the loss of representation to our constituents. It is a victory but we have not yet won the war. Our hope is that the further proceedings reveal to the light of day the unjust and true motivation and the question is kept completely off the Census.”
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez’s Perspective
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez issued this statement about the Supreme Court ruling:
“Based on today’s Supreme Court ruling, there is a high probability that the citizenship question will not be asked on the 2020 Census form.
“This week, we have been reminded more than ever of the importance of a complete count, which influences the amount of funding available for infrastructure, community services, healthcare, and other resources.
“The Constitution calls for all U.S. residents to be counted, regardless of citizenship or residency status.
“With more than $600 billion in federal funds as well as the drawing of congressional districts at stake, we must ensure that Hidalgo County is accurately represented because we have to provide services to all of our residents, whether or not they were counted.
“According to the feedback and research provided in the course of the county’s efforts to ensure an accurate count, most believe that including a citizenship question would decrease participation.
“We appreciate all of our partners and the support we have received in the county’s efforts to increase participation in the 2020 Census.
“The County’s objectives for the 2020 Census remain unchanged:
- Important – to communicate the importance of everyone’s participation;
- Easy – to make the process as easy to complete as possible; and
- Safe – to ensure residents are confident there are no negative consequences to response
“Information will continue to be provided through the United We Count/Unidos Contamos campaign.”
Cortez added that if Hidalgo County is undercounted by just 10,000 residents, the county stands to lose $160 million in federal dollars over ten years.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows attorney Rolando Rios.