Supreme Court Sends Commerce Department’s Politically Motivated Census Citizenship Question Back to New York Federal Court

Supreme Court Sends Commerce Department’s Politically Motivated Census Citizenship Question Back to New York Federal Court

National Health Law Program Urges Action to Ensure an Accurate 2020 Census

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to remand the U.S. Commerce Department’s lawsuit to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census to a federal court in New York, stalling the politically driven effort to undermine a fair, accurate, and inclusive census count.

National Health Law Program Executive Director Elizabeth G. Taylor said the Constitution demands a fair census count and evidence reveals this commerce department was intent on cementing political power.

“The constitutional purpose of the census is to count every person in the U.S. to determine congressional representation, not to check citizenship status. The commerce department’s effort to include a citizenship question is all about undermining the overarching goal of a fair and accurate census count,” said Taylor.

She added, “Nonpartisan Census Bureau experts have warned that adding a last-minute citizenship question to the 2020 Census will depress participation, which could result in cuts to health care, education, transportation and other vital public services for communities of color, especially Latino and Latina individuals and families.”

Writing for the high court majority in Dept. of Commerce v. New York, Chief Justice John Roberts said the Court was presented “with an explanation for agency action [to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census] that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision-making process.”

Therefore the majority agreed that the “District Court was warranted in remanding to the agency, and we affirm that disposition.” Roberts added that agencies like the commerce department “must pursue their goals reasonably. Reasoned decision-making under the Administrative Procedure Act calls for an explanation for agency action. What was provided here was more of a distraction.”

Justice Stephen Breyer joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, said in a concurring opinion that the commerce department’s action pushing the citizenship question violated the Administrative Procedure Act because it was “arbitrary and capricious.”

Breyer continued, “There is no serious dispute that adding a citizenship question would diminish the accuracy of the enumeration of the population – the sole constitutional function of the census and a task of great practical importance. The record demonstrates that the question would likely cause a disproportionate number of noncitizens and Hispanics to go uncounted in the upcoming census. That, in turn, would create a risk that some States would wrongfully lose a congressional representative and funding for a host of federal programs.”

National Health Law Program Managing Attorney of the D.C. Office Mara Youdelman said advocates’ work is not done, noting that the Trump administration’s outlandish promotion of the citizenship question has fueled fear and confusion about the census and answering its questions.

“We must advocate aggressively for immigrants and their communities from coast to coast to participate in the upcoming census count. It is a vital campaign to ensure an accurate count for congressional representation and fair funding of health care, education, transportation services, and other programs.”

The National Health Law Program joined a friend-of-court brief with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and more than 140 public interest groups in urging the Supreme Court to reject the Trump administration’s citizenship question. Read the amicus brief here.

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