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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


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)