District Judge Bars Trump Administration’s Census Question

On March 6, 2019, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question “Is this person a citizen of the United States” to the 2020 census in a 126-page decision.

Similar to Judge Furman’s census ruling, Judge Seeborg rules that inclusion of the citizenship question was an “arbitrary and capricious governmental act” and violates the Administrative Procedure Act. Specifically, “Despite unrefuted evidence produced by the professional staff of the Census Bureau that inclusion of a citizenship question would likely result in a significant differential decline in self-response rates within noncitizen and Latino communities and that the requested data could be obtained by other means, Secretary Ross insisted upon adding the citizenship question to the census.”

Judge Seeborg also rules that “the Secretary’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census violates the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution.” “The United States Constitution mandates the ‘actual Enumeration’ of the population every ten years for the purpose of apportioning congressional representatives among the states. … There is a strong ‘constitutional interest in accuracy’ of the census. The type of accuracy which most directly implicates the constitutional purpose of the census is distributive accuracy, as opposed to numerical accuracy.” Numerical accuracy refers to “the accuracy of the overall count,” and distributive accuracy is defined as “the accuracy of the proportions in which residents are counted in their proper locations.”  Judge Seeborg further states that “Secretary Ross’s decision to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census undermines the ‘strong constitutional interest in [the] accuracy’ of the census, and does so despite the fact that adding this question does not advance any identifiable government purpose.”