Second Court Blocks Citizenship Question

On January 15, 2019, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman (Southern District, NY) blocked the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 US Census. 

On March 6, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of California also blocked the addition of the citizenship question.

Both judges have determined that Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross’ decision to add the question against the recommendation of Census Bureau officials was unlawful due to multiple violations of the Administrative Procedure Act. Both determined that Ross “cherry-picked” information, and went out of his way to solicit a “request” from a member of the US Justice Department as a “sham justification” for adding the question.

Judge Seaborg added in his ruling, that "In short, the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census threatens the very foundation of our democratic system — and does so based on a self-defeating rationale.”

Census Bureau officials and other experts believe that in the current political climate, such a question will result in a serious undercount. Even families who are citizens or legal residents may hesitate to respond if they have a family member who is not, out of fear that the Census data would be used to remove them from the country.  This is unfortunately not an irrational fear; during World War II the US Government used 1940 Census data to help find people of Japanese descent and force them into internment camps.

 Since representation and many forms of funding are apportioned based on population, an undercount would result in under-representation in government,  under-funding of things like roads and schools, and give wildly inaccurate aggregate population data. 

Such statistical information is used to help determine community needs: what areas may need more/fewer schools for certain age groups in coming years, where will more/fewer services be needed for senior citizens, etc. Businesses also make use of the statistical data collected to determine where to locate, where to focus advertising, and much more. 

U.S. District Judge George Hazel in Maryland heard closing arguments last month in a pair of cases related to the citizenship question. Plaintiffs are awaiting his ruling. 

The US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the administration’s appeal of the New York decision in April. It is expected that the administration will also appeal the California decision.


More Information:

Second Judge Blocks Trump Administration's Census Citizenship Question Plans (NPR, 6 Mar 2019; includes 126 page PDF of decision)

Judge Orders Trump Administration To Remove 2020 Census Citizenship Question (NPR, All Things Considered, 15 Jan 2019)

2020 Census Citizenship Question

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