Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Aug 12 2019

Federal judge has called Trump Administration’s defense “halfhearted”

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today asked an Alabama federal judge to allow him to join an ongoing lawsuit to ensure that the 2020 Census includes all residents in its count, seeking to bolster what the court has called the Trump Administration’s “halfhearted” defense of the constitutionally required count.

The lawsuit, filed by the State of Alabama and Alabama Congressman Morris Brooks Jr. last year, seeks to force the federal government to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count, claiming that including them in the count would potentially result in the state losing congressional representation and federal funds to other states.

“Our Constitution is clear: the census must be an ‘actual enumeration’ of the ‘whole number of persons’ in the United States,” Ferguson said. “The Trump Administration won’t do its job to defend the census and has already tried to undermine the count for its own political advantage. Once again, Washington state will step in to protect the integrity of the census.”

“With so much at stake in the census, we cannot allow anyone to denigrate efforts to ensure that everyone is counted,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “This effort has profound political and fiscal implications for states for decades to come. I support the efforts of Attorney General Ferguson and others as they continue to stand up for a complete count in Washington, and in every other state.” 

In December, U.S. District Court Judge R. David Proctor criticized the federal government’s defense in the case as “rather halfhearted.” The court wrote that it was “concerned that (the federal government has) overlooked” key arguments against Alabama’s lawsuit.

Ferguson and 15 other attorneys general, in addition to nine cities and counties, including Seattle, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, are seeking to join the case to ensure that the census is adequately defended. This is not one of Ferguson’s 44 lawsuits against the Trump Administration. In those cases, Ferguson is 21-0 against the Trump Administration.

In his motion to intervene in the case, Ferguson cites U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s comments in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocking the Trump Administration from adding a citizenship question to the census as further evidence that the administration may not offer an adequate defense of the census in the Alabama case.

During a press conference after the ruling, Barr specifically cited the Alabama lawsuit, noting that the federal government was still “studying the issue” of “whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes.”

Earlier this year, Ferguson successfully blocked the Trump Administration’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, which the Census Bureau’s own research found would depress participation in the census. The administration had argued that the question was intended to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. However, evidence was later uncovered that detailed a Republican strategist’s alleged role in developing the justification for adding the question. The strategist, who has since died, determined that the effects of adding a citizenship question would aid redistricting efforts that would be “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”

In its ruling, the Supreme Court called the government’s justifications for adding the question “contrived.”

Assistant Attorneys General Laura Clinton and Andrew Hughes are handling the case for Washington.

This is not the first time Ferguson has sought to intervene in a lawsuit on the side of the federal government. Ferguson has joined several cases to fend off attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including an attempt to eliminate key cost-sharing subsidies. He has also intervened in an attempt by a coalition of Republican attorneys general to invalidate the entire ACA, which, if successful, could leave hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians without access to affordable health care. In that case, the Trump Administration bluntly declared to the court that it would not defend the ACA.

Ferguson also joined 25 states, cities and counties around the nation to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov