Supreme Court Affirms that Census Citizenship Question Cannot be Added on False Rationale

rally in front of the Supreme Court
Demonstrators gather in front of the Supreme Court to oppose a citizenship question being added to the 2020 Census. Photo by Casey Atkins/Campaign Legal Center.

On June 27, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a January 15 opinion by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman finding that Secretary Ross lied about his reasons for adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census. 

The Court held that there was a “strong showing of bad faith or improper behavior” by the Administration, justifying a closer look at its motives. The Court could “not ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given” and held that “agencies must pursue their goals reasonably.” Secretary Ross did not do that here. 

The Court has remanded the case for further proceedings. 

Unless the Secretary can provide a truthful and legitimate rationale for the question—which he cannot—the question will not be permitted. Based on the government’s deadline of July 1 for printing, it seems unlikely it can proffer a newly minted explanation that can pass muster. 

CLC applauds the U.S. Supreme Court for stopping the citizenship question in its tracks. 

An addition of the Census question would have chilled minority participation in the 2020 Census and made it less accurate. For now, the quality of the census is protected from the hasty addition of a politically-motivated question. 

It is of the utmost importance that the census reflects all communities living in the country.

In October 2018, CLC obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request that demonstrated that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross approached the Department of Justice (DOJ) and asked them to formally request that the 2020 census include a question about citizenship. Despite initial resistance, DOJ complied, but only after Secretary Ross sought the intervention of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

CLC, along with more than 130 civil rights organizations, signed onto an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs at the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing not only that the citizenship question was unnecessary, but that it would also severely undermine efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and cause substantial harm to the communities VRA is designed to protect.

Read about the actions CLC has taken to oppose the citizenship question.

This post was written by Aaron Carrell, a 2019 CLC Hinckley intern, and student at the University of Utah.