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New York v. United States Department of Commerce

The State of New York led a coalition of states, cities, and mayors in a successful challenge to the Commerce Department’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

Last Updated: August 10, 2020
Published: August 13, 2019


The State of New York led a coali­tion of states, cities, and mayors in a chal­lenge to the Commerce Depart­ment’s decision to add a citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census. New York 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 South­ern District of New York and produced the first trial victory on the citizen­ship ques­tion issue. On June 27, 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opin­ion in the case block­ing the citizen­ship ques­tion.

Case Back­ground

The State of New York, sixteen states, seven cities, and the U.S. Confer­ence of Mayors sued the Depart­ment of Commerce, Commerce Secret­ary Wilbur Ross, and the Census Bureau, arguing that the Depart­ment’s addi­tion of a citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census was uncon­sti­tu­tional and other­wise illegal.

New York and its co-plaintiffs alleged that adding a citizen­ship ques­tion would deter parti­cip­a­tion in the census and cause an under­count, under­min­ing the accur­acy of the 2020 Census and jeop­ard­iz­ing the fund­ing that they receive.

The suit conten­ded that adding a citizen­ship ques­tion would under­mine the federal govern­ment’s consti­tu­tional oblig­a­tion to conduct an “actual enumer­a­tion” of the national popu­la­tion. The suit further argued that the Commerce Depart­ment’s decision was “not in accord­ance with law,” “contrary to consti­tu­tional right,” “beyond [the Depart­ment and the Census Bureau’s] stat­utory author­ity,” and “arbit­rary and capri­cious,” all in viol­a­tion of the Admin­is­trat­ive Proced­ure Act (APA).

New York asked the court to, among other things, enjoin the Commerce Depart­ment from includ­ing the citizen­ship ques­tion on the 2020 Census.

On July 26, the court gran­ted the govern­ment’s motion to dismiss in part and denied it in part, dismiss­ing the plaintiffs’ claims under the Enumer­a­tion Clause, but permit­ting their claims under the APA and Due Process Clause to proceed. 

Bench trial was held between Novem­ber 5, 2018 and Novem­ber 27, 2018. The court consol­id­ated this case with New York Immig­ra­tion Coal. v. Dep’t of Commerce for purposes of that trial. 

The district court ruled on Janu­ary 15, 2019 for the plaintiffs on their APA claims, and ordered the Commerce Depart­ment to remove a citizen­ship ques­tion from the 2020 Census. 

The federal govern­ment appealed that decision directly to the Supreme Court. On June 27, 2019, the Supreme Court issued an opin­ion uphold­ing in part the district court’s decision strik­ing down the citizen­ship ques­tion.

On July 11, 2019, the federal govern­ment announced that it would aban­don its pursuit of the citizen­ship ques­tion.

The district court also considered whether the federal govern­ment’s attor­neys and witnesses should be sanc­tioned for their actions in the case. On May 21, 2020, the court concluded that sanc­tions were not warran­ted for the plaintiffs’ claim that defend­ants concealed evid­ence and that two witnesses provided false testi­mony, since it would have not changed the outcome of the litig­a­tion. However, the court ordered the federal govern­ment to reim­burse the plaintiffs for the costs that they incurred as a result of the govern­ment’s fail­ure to produce hundreds of docu­ments prior to trial. 

Key Docu­ments

District Court

Amicus Briefs Submit­ted at Motion to Dismiss Phase

Amicus Briefs Submit­ted at Trial Stage 

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Case No. 18–2652, re: Extra-Record Discov­ery and John Gore Depos­ition)

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Case No. 18–2856, re: Extra-Record Discov­ery and Wilbur Ross Depos­ition)

U.S. Supreme Court (Case No. 18A375, re: Extra-record Discov­ery and Depos­itions)

U.S. Supreme Court (Case No. 18–557, re: Extra-record Discov­ery and Depos­itions) 

Amicus Briefs

U.S. Supreme Court (Case No. 18–966, re: Merits of the Citizen­ship Ques­tion) 

Amicus Briefs Regard­ing Grant­ing Certi­or­ari 

Amicus Briefs in Support of Commerce Depart­ment 

Amicus Briefs in Support of New York et al.