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California v. Ross

The State of California has filed a lawsuit against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross challenging the Commerce Department’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. California argues that the Department’s decision violates the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Last Updated: October 14, 2019
Published: July 31, 2019

Summary

The State of Cali­for­nia filed a lawsuit against Commerce Secret­ary Wilbur Ross chal­len­ging the Commerce Depart­ment’s decision to add a citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census. Cali­for­nia argued that the Depart­ment’s decision viol­ated the U.S. Consti­tu­tion and the Admin­is­trat­ive Proced­ure Act. 

This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the North­ern District of Cali­for­nia and produced the second trial victory on the citizen­ship ques­tion issue. On June 27, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opin­ion block­ing the citizen­ship ques­tion in a related case, New York v. United States Depart­ment of Commerce. The judge in this case subsequently issued an injunc­tion perman­ently prevent­ing the Commerce Depart­ment from adding a citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census.

Case Back­ground

The State of Cali­for­nia – along with several Cali­for­nia cities and counties – sued Commerce Secret­ary Wilbur Ross, the Depart­ment of Commerce, the Acting Director of the Census Bureau, and the Census Bureau over the Commerce Depart­ment’s decision to add a citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census. Cali­for­nia alleged that the addi­tion of the ques­tion would deter non-citizens and their relat­ives from respond­ing to the census and produce detri­mental effects for states with large immig­rant popu­la­tion­s—in­clud­ing fewer congres­sional seats and billions of dollars in lost federal fund­ing. Because a citizen­ship ques­tion would depress census responses, Cali­for­nia conten­ded, the decision to add it would lead to a viol­a­tion of the U.S. Consti­tu­tion’s require­ment for an “actual enumer­a­tion” of every person resid­ing in the coun­try. Cali­for­nia also argued that the Depart­ment’s decision viol­ated the Admin­is­trat­ive Proced­ure Act’s prohib­i­tion against “arbit­rary and capri­cious” agency action, because the Depart­ment failed to adequately account for the under­count threat when formu­lat­ing its posi­tion.

The court consol­id­ated this case with another citizen­ship-ques­tion suit, City of San Jose v. Rossfor purposes of discov­ery and trial.

On August 17, the court denied the govern­ment’s motion to dismiss, allow­ing the plaintiffs to proceed on both their Enumer­a­tion Clause claim and their Admin­is­trat­ive Proced­ure Act claims. The court also gran­ted the plaintiffs discov­ery beyond the admin­is­trat­ive record.

During the motion to dismiss brief­ing, the Bren­nan Center filed an amicus brief with the Lead­er­ship Confer­ence on Civil and Human Rights, the Lead­er­ship Confer­ence Educa­tion Fund, Muslim Advoc­ates, the National Coali­tion on Black Civic Parti­cip­a­tion, NALEO Educa­tional Fund, et al., support­ing the plaintiffs in their efforts to block the citizen­ship ques­tion.

The court denied the govern­ment’s motion for summary judg­ment, allow­ing the case to proceed to trial. The bench trial began on Janu­ary 7, 2019. 

The district court ruled on March 6, 2019 for the plaintiffs on their APA and Enumer­a­tion Clause claims, and ordered the Commerce Depart­ment to remove the citizen­ship ques­tion from the 2020 Census. 

On March 14, 2019, the federal govern­ment appealed the trial court decision to the Ninth Circuit.

On June 28, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the district court’s decision and remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for further consid­er­a­tion in light of its June 27, 2019 opin­ion strik­ing down the citizen­ship ques­tion in New York v. United States Depart­ment of Commerce.

On July 11, 2019, the federal govern­ment announced that it would aban­don its pursuit of the citizen­ship ques­tion. On August 1, 2019, the district court judge in this case issued an order perman­ently block­ing the admin­is­tra­tion from adding a citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census.

Key Docu­ments

District Court

Bren­nan Center Filings

Filings, Orders and Opin­ions

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Case No. 19–15456) 

U.S. Supreme Court (Case No. 18–1214)