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Press Release

New York Federal Judge Blocks Citizenship Question From the 2020 Census

A federal court has blocked the Commerce Department’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census

January 15, 2019

Jan. 15, 2019

The Brennan Center says the decision lays out a roadmap for additional victories in similar court challenges.

MEDIA CONTACT: Mireya “Mia” Navarro,, 646–925–8760

United States District Judge Jesse M. Furman today blocked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, agreeing with a coalition of states, cities, mayors and immigrant rights groups that Secretary Ross’s decision would be illegal.

“Today’s ruling is a strong signal to the Trump administration that any attempts to politicize and corrupt the 2020 census will fail," said Thomas Wolf, the counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program who leads the center’s census project.

“Hard data and commonsense show that the citizenship question would intimidate vulnerable communities and massively suppress participation in the 2020 Census, with damaging effects that would undermine our democracy for a decade or more,” Wolf said.

The Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, announced in March that it would add the question, triggering lawsuits around the country from advocates for a fair and accurate census. The advocates say a citizenship question would scare away immigrants and others concerned about how government may end up using the information about their citizenship status. President Trump’s hostile rhetoric against undocumented immigrants has heightened those concerns.

The census count provides critical population data that helps allocate billions of federal dollars and draw political districts so that Congress and state legislatures are representative of the voting population. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a leader in the efforts to ensure that redistricting produces maps that fully and fairly reflect the nation’s diverse populations.

Judge Furman’s ruling underscores the need for Congress, which is negotiating funding language that would remove the citizenship question from the census, to act and prevent an undercount.

“Congress can end the controversy over the citizenship question once and for all by exercising its supervisory powers over the census and ordering the question off,” Wolf said.

Ruling after a trial last month on two consolidated lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, Judge Furman determined that the Trump administration departed unjustifiably from important federal laws governing how government agencies should make decisions, concluding, among other things, that Secretary Ross “alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him.”

Today’s decision ends the Trump administration’s months-long campaign to postpone the case and avoid a final ruling. The district court’s opinion also sets a strong precedent ahead of trials in other challenges to the citizenship question, laying out a roadmap for additional victories in federal courts in California and Maryland.

The Trump administration will likely appeal today’s ruling, setting up further potential showdowns in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, which have already ruled against the administration on several issues in earlier phases of these cases.

Click here for the Brennan Center’s Census 2020 page.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to reform, revitalize – and when necessary, defend – our country’s systems of democracy and justice.