Supreme Court Upholds Exclusion of Citizenship Question in 2020 Census

Today, in a defeat for the Trump administration, the Supreme Court has ruled in Department of Commerce v. New York — a complicated decision — that a citizenship question cannot be added to the 2020 Census, in part because of the government’s explanation for why it included the question in the first place.


The majority opinion, written by Justice John Roberts, said it “cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given” by the Trump administration.

“The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law, after all, is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public,” the majority opinion continued. “Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.”

The decision comes more than a year after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, overruled the unanimous advice of Census Bureau experts and approved the addition of the question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?

The League of Women Voters of New York State was one of several named organizational plaintiffs in the case.

“We are relieved that the Court protected the purpose and outcome of the 2020 Census,” said Laura Bierman, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New York State. “Here in New York, we are one of the largest states in the nation by population, but we also have one of the most notoriously hard-to-count populations. An untested citizenship question would have directly harmed New Yorkers.”

Because of the impact this case will have on communities across the country, the League of Women Voter of the United States filed a friend of the court brief in Department of Commerce v. New York. 

“Make no mistake – the suggestion of a citizenship question in the census was a scare tactic designed to decrease participation among non-English speaking and immigrant communities,” said Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “While today’s ruling is a victory for our democracy, damage has already been done by instilling fear in the public. We celebrate the Court’s ruling and are relieved that the question will not appear in the census questionnaire; however, there is still much work to be done.”

The League will be working overtime in the coming months with a three-pronged approach—education, ‘Get Out the Count’ activities, and watchdog reporting—to ensure the most complete possible census count, with a focus on hard-to-count communities.

“In a key part of today’s decision, the court rejected the notion that the purpose of a citizenship question was to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act,” said Celina Stewart, Senior Director of Advocacy and Litigation at the League of Women Voters of the United States. “This rationale is a serious misuse of one of the most important legislative actions of our time, and the court rightly put a lid on the VRA being used as a scapegoat for irrational targeting.”

The Census will launch on April 1, 2020, and its results will be distributed to states in time for the upcoming redistricting cycle in Spring of 2021.



Advocacy: African Human Rights Coalition
Speaker: Melnathan
Mediation: Private Courts

Follow me on Twitter – @MelanieNathan1
Instagram: @commissionermelnathan


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