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Court Case

Kravitz v. United States Department of Commerce

Maryland and Arizona residents are challenging the Department of Commerce’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The plaintiffs argue that the decision violates the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act. The government appealed the decision and the case is now pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Published: July 15, 2019

Summary

Residents of Maryland and Arizona challenged the Department of Commerce’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The plaintiffs argued that the decision violated the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.

This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and resulted in a court order blocking the citizenship question. 

Case Background

A group of individuals from Maryland and Arizona sued the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau over the Commerce Department’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The plaintiffs alleged that the addition of the question would reduce census response rates and produce a disproportionate undercount in states with high numbers of certain demographic groups, including non-English speakers, people of Hispanic or Latino origin, and immigrants.

The plaintiffs contended that, because the citizenship question would produce an inaccurate and incomplete head count, the Commerce Department’s decision to add it violated the federal government’s constitutional requirement to conduct an “actual enumeration” of every person living in the country. The suit also claimed that the department added the citizenship question without adequately assessing its likely impact on response rates. For this and other reasons, the plaintiffs asserted, the Commerce Department’s decision also violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

The plaintiffs asked the court to block the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau from including the citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

On August 22, 2018, the court denied the government’s motion to dismiss, allowing the plaintiffs to proceed on both their Enumeration Clause 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, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, supporting the plaintiffs in their efforts to block the citizenship question.

On December 19, 2018, the court denied the government's motion for summary judgment, allowing the case to proceed to trial. The court consolidated this case with La Union Del Pueblo Entero v. Ross for the purposes of that trial. 

The district court ruled on April 5, 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 June 25, 2019 the Fourth Circuit granted the plaintiffs request to remand the case to the district court for further discovery on their equal protection claims in light of newly discover evidence regarding the Trump administration’s reason for adding the citizenship question. On July 5, the district court ordered that discovery to proceed.

On July 11, 2019, the federal government announced that it would abandon its pursuit of the citizenship question. The district court subsequently issued a permanent injunction barring 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 Fourth Circuit (Case No. 19-1382)