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Latino voter group files lawsuit over Alabama claim on census

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is one of the defendants in the suit.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is one of the defendants in the suit. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
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A civil rights organization representing Latino voters filed a lawsuit against the government Tuesday night seeking to prevent it from leaving undocumented people out of congressional apportionment after the 2020 Census.

In the suit filed against the Commerce Department, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and the Census Bureau, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) asked a federal judge in Alabama to declare that apportionment must be determined by the total population, as has been longstanding practice.

The state of Alabama filed a suit last year against the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau, arguing that the current system of apportioning congressional seats gives an unfair electoral advantage to states with more undocumented immigrants.

Several states, cities, counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, along with the Latino voters, had requested to join the case as interveners, saying they feared the Justice Department would not defend the Alabama suit wholeheartedly. Although constitutional scholars have said the Alabama suit is unlikely to succeed, interveners said they were concerned particularly after a July comment by U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr in which he seemed to suggest the Alabama case might succeed.

The new suit, a cross-claim against co-defendants in the Alabama suit, is necessary in order to “prevent the federal government from voluntarily doing what Alabama seeks to compel,” MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas A. Saenz said.

“Just as we were rightly concerned about the Trump administration’s unwillingness to put up the strongest defense against the state of Alabama’s scurrilous contention that our Constitution does not recognize undocumented immigrants as ‘persons,’ we have filed this cross-claim out of a concern that the Trump administration might choose, on its own, to attempt to discount these persons even after the federal court rejects the state’s allegation that the Constitution compels such a discounting,” he said.

MALDEF also represented plaintiffs in one of several lawsuits that earlier this year successfully challenged the administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

A Commerce Department spokesman declined to comment.

Earlier this month in Maryland, MALDEF and another civil rights group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, sued the government over President Trump’s July executive order for U.S. agencies to provide citizenship information, saying the order violates the Administrative Procedure Act.