Supreme Court Blocks the 2020 Citizenship Question

The U.S. Supreme Court today affirmed a lower-court decision to block the Department of Commerce's inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. In a highly anticipated 5-4 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's purported reason for adding the question—namely, to aid in the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act—was “contrived." The majority held that the Administrative Procedure Act requires an agency to provide valid explanations for its actions, noting that “we cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given."  ​

Earlier this year, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Public Counsel, on behalf of the city of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, successfully challenged the addition of the citizenship question in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The court ruled that Secretary Ross's decision to add a citizenship question to the Census was both unlawful and unconstitutional, violating not only the Administrative Procedure Act, but also the Enumeration Clause of the United States Constitution. Manatt and its pro bono partners filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court on behalf of the city of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, arguing that Secretary Ross's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census was unconstitutional, arbitrary and capricious.

“The Supreme Court today held what the city of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration have always argued: that Secretary Wilbur Ross’s purported reason for adding the question was pretextual,” said Manatt partner John Libby, who was part of the team that successfully argued against the question’s addition in the Northern District of California. “Now that we know the 2020 Census will likely not contain a citizenship question, it is all the more important to encourage everyone to participate and be counted next year.”​

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