On July 4, 2018, a coalition of states, localities, and non-profit organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Census Bureau, and various department and bureau officials, challenging the defendants' decision to re-add a citizenship question onto the 2020 decennial census questionnaire. The plaintiffs alleged that the inclusion of a citizenship question would jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities, which will result in lower amounts of federal funding allocations over the next decade. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants' decision violated their constitutional duty to conduct an "actual Enumeration" under Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution and was arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The plaintiffs requested that the court issue a declaration that the defendants' decision violates their constitutional and statutory obligation and injunctive relief barring the defendants from requesting citizenship information in the 2020 Census. The case was consolidated with another federal lawsuit filed in New York alleging similar claims, in addition to a new claim that the defendants' decision violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The federal district court dismissed the plaintiffs' Enumeration Clause claim, but allowed the other claims to proceed. After a bench trial, the district court ruled that the plaintiffs did have standing to sue, that the Secretary's decision to reinstate a citizenship question was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act due to the Secretary's offered rationale being "pretextual," and that the decision violated the Census Act, but that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate an equal protection violation. The defendants appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court on January 19, 2017.

On June 27, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion affirming in part and reversing in part the district court's ruling. The Court first found that at least some of the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the citizenship question decision because evidence showed that reinstating the question would lead to lower response rates for noncitizen households, which would result in diminished political representation, federal funding, and census data accuracy. Next, the Court ruled that the enumeration Clause does permit Congress, and by extension the Secretary, to inquire about citizenship on the census questionnaire based upon the historical, consistent practices underlying the census and Congress's broad authority over the census. The Court also found the Secretary's decision was reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act, and that the Secretary's decision was reasonably supported by the evidence before him showing that the best course of action to collect improved citizenship data was to reinstate a citizenship question on the census and to fill in gaps in the data through administrative records. The Court reversed the district court's ruling that the Secretary's decision violated two provisions of the Census Act because the Secretary properly judged that administrative records would not provide the complete and more accurate data sought by the federal government, and the Secretary fully informed Congress of and explained his decision. Finally, and ultimately, the Court ruled that the citizenship question could not be added to the 2020 Census because the Secretary's decision violated the reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law. That requirement mandates that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, and the Court found that the Secretary's offered rationale for reinstating the citizenship question, namely that the Department of Justice needed more accurate citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, did not comport with evidence showing that the Department of Justice's request came only after the Department of Commerce unsuccessfully attempted to get other agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to request citizenship data. This mismatch between the agency's offered explanation and the record's details as to the agency's priorities and decision-making process violated the APA's reasoned explanation requirement, and therefore the Court found the district court was warranted in remanding to the agency.

On August 2, 2019, the defendants filed an unopposed motion to voluntarily dismiss the appeal, which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted on August 7, 2019, bringing the case to an end.


U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York - No. 1:18-CV-2921 [together with Nos. 1:18-CV-5025, 1:20-CV-5770, 1:20-CV-5781]

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit - No. 18-2652 [together with No. 18-2659]

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit - No. 19-212

U.S. Supreme Court - No. 18-966