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2020 Census Can't Ask Citizenship Question, Judge Rules

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Since 1790, the government census also has been used to count every single person residing in the United States, to determine state and federal political representation and collect demographic data about the country's population. That demographic information includes race, sex, and age, and from 1820 to 1950, the census also gathered information on citizenship status.

Starting in 1960, though, the government dropped the citizenship question, reasoning that noncitizens and Hispanic citizens would be less likely to participate for fear of census information being used against them and their loved ones. The Trump administration attempted to reintroduce the citizenship question for the 2020 census, but a federal court put those plans on hold. You can see that full decision below.

Statutory Stumbling Blocks

The proposed addition question read: "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" Simple enough, but Judge Jesse Furman ruled Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's decision-making process for including the question "violated public trust" in the census process. Furman cited the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), a federal law that sets the procedures for executive agencies to follow when promulgating rules and regulations. While "the Constitution, the Census Act, and the APA allow the Secretary of Commerce broad discretion over the design and administration of the decennial census," Furman conceded, Ross's actions must be "be reasonable and reasonably explained" and comply with federal rules and procedures.

Specifically, the APA required that Ross to "study relevant evidence and come to a conclusion supported by it, comply with procedures and laws and explain the facts and reasons for the decision," as well as publicly disclose the reasoning. But according to Judge Furman, Ross failed to meet that bar:

Secretary Ross's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census -- even if it did not violate the Constitution itself -- was unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons and must be set aside. To conclude otherwise and let Secretary Ross's decision stand would undermine the proposition -- central to the rule of law -- that ours is a "government of laws, and not of men." And it would do so with respect to what Congress itself has described as "one of the most critical constitutional functions our Federal Government performs."

The Trump administration will almost certainly appeal the decision. Until then, you can read the full, 277-page opinion below:

Census Citizenship Question... by on Scribd

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