District Court Judge Blocks 2020 Census Citizenship Question

On January 15, 2019, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to the question “Is this person a citizen of the United States” to the 2020 census.

Judge Furman enjoined the government from implementing Secretary Ross’s March 26, 2018 decision or from adding a question to the 2020 census questionnaire “without curing the legal defects” identified in the 277-page opinion.

The Court’s decision reaches three major legal conclusions. First, that most, if not all, of Plaintiffs have standing to bring their claims. The Court emphasizes that adding a citizenship question to the census will result in “an undercount of certain sectors of the population, including people who live in households containing noncitizens and Hispanics, relative to others,” which is unlikely to be remedied by the “Non-Response Follow Up” procedures. “That undercount, in turn, will translate into a loss of political power and funds, among other harms, for various Plaintiffs.” (Opinion, p.8)

Second, the Court says Secretary Ross violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in multiple ways. “Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question was ‘arbitrary and capricious’ on its own terms: He failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices — a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut APA violations.” (Opinion, p.8) He also acted without following statutory procedures. Moreover, the stated rational was pretextual. “It follows that a court cannot sustain agency action founded on a pretextual or sham justification that conceals the true ‘basis’ for the decision.” (Opinion, p. 245)

Lastly, the decision says Plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of proving that Secretary Ross was motivated by invidious discrimination and thus violated the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Court states that “In arriving at his decision as he did, Secretary Ross violated the law. And in doing so with respect to the census — ‘one of the most critical constitutional functions our Federal Government performs’, and a ‘mainstay of our democracy,’— Secretary Ross violated the public trust.” (Opinion, p. 11) It further concludes that “To conclude otherwise and let Secretary Ross’s decision stand would undermine the proposition — central to the rule of law — that ours is a ‘government of laws, and not of men.’ And it would do so with respect to what Congress itself has described as ‘one of the most critical constitutional functions our Federal Government performs.’” (Opinion, p. 277)

The Trump administration is expected to appeal the decision to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and perhaps ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.