Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill announced Friday that he supports President Donald Trump’s request that the 2020 Census include a question about whether the respondent is or is not a U.S. citizen.
Merrill has submitted a letter outlining his support for the executive order or other legal remedies requested by Trump to require the inclusion of a U.S. citizenship question on the 2020 United States Census form.
Merrill said the question of citizenship ensures the U.S. Census Bureau gathers accurate information for use in determining the number of congressional seats and Electoral College votes delegated to the state of Alabama in the upcoming redistricting.
“It is devastating news. Alabama could lose a seat in Congress if non-U.S. citizens are calculated in the 2020 Census and in other parts of the nation,” Merrill said. “Alabama has a great deal at stake with the data produced by the 2020 Census if non-U.S. citizens are counted.”
The state of Alabama, through Attorney General Steve Marshall and Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, have filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding that non-citizens not be counted for purposes of reapportionment and redistricting.
“We don’t need to be giving benefits to people who are non-citizens over people who are citizens, period,” Merrill said. “There are two districts in Los Angeles County, California, that currently have less than 40 percent United States citizenship in population. That means there are two congressional districts in California that shouldn’t even exist.”
“When you start counting citizens, then you will have citizens represented in Congress,” Merrill added. “When you start counting everybody, even those people that may not be citizens, you’re giving advantage to people that allow illegals to come into their community. That is not a positive thing for anybody.”
The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it was dropping the citizenship question from the 2020 Census. The decision was made just days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the administration and stated that the question cannot be included.
Trump initially said he wanted to delay the census while his administration continued to push for the question to be included in the 2020 survey.
On Tuesday, a Justice Department lawyer said the decision was made to start printing the census form without the citizenship question being included.
“We can confirm that the decision has been made to print the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire without a citizenship question and that the printer has been instructed to begin the printing process,” wrote DOJ attorney Kate Bailey on Tuesday.
The email was sent to civil rights groups, who were challenging the question.
Former President Barack Obama’s White House lawyer Daniel Jacobson made the email public on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that the administration has not given up on including the citizenship question.
On Friday the Trump Administration released a statement expressing that they are exploring all options on how to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
“The Departments of Justice and Commerce have been asked to reevaluate all available options following the Supreme Court’s decision and whether the Supreme Court’s decision would allow for a new decision to include the citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in a filing Friday.
The lack of a citizenship question would put into question the viability of Alabama’s lawsuit.
Without a citizenship question, it will be difficult for the Census Bureau to determine how many of the people counted are or are not citizens.
It is expected that Alabama will lose one of its seven Congressional Districts if undocumented immigrants are counted for purposes of reapportionment and redistricting. California and Texas will be the beneficiaries. They are expected to gain several new House districts and the corresponding electoral college votes in presidential elections after the 2020 election.
On June 5, Judge David Proctor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama held that the plaintiffs, the State of Alabama and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, have adequately alleged that they will be harmed by the inclusion of undocumented immigrants in the census.
“Alabama will continue to make its case that the Constitution and federal law require that each state’s share of federal political power in Congress be apportioned based on the number of people who are lawfully present in the United States and that illegal aliens must not be included in that calculation,” Marshall said.
Proctor denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but there still has to be a ruling from the lower court. A ruling favorable to Marshall and Brooks would almost certainly be appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and whichever side lost the appeal would take it to the Supreme Court. All of that takes time. Meanwhile the printers will be churning out millions of Census forms with no citizenship question.
For there to be a citizenship question, the Supreme Court would likely have to overturn its ruling of last week.
To find in favor of Marshall, Brooks and the State of Alabama, that likely will have to happen. Then, the court would have to find in favor of the State of Alabama and order the government not to include non-citizens in congressional reapportionment. The Brooks and Marshall lawsuit still has to be heard in a lower federal court before it can be appealed by the losing side.
Merrill is a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Doug Jones.
The 2020 Census will be coming on March and April.
Original reporting by the Hill’s Jacqueline Thomsen and The Washington Post contributed to this report.