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Court Case

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)