Department Of Commerce v. New York

139 S.Ct. 2551 (2019)


The Constitution requires an “Enumeration” of the population every 10 years, to be made “in such Manner” as Congress “shall by Law direct.” In the Census Act, Congress delegated to D the task of conducting the decennial census “in such form and content as he may determine.” The Census Bureau is a statistical agency housed within the Department of Commerce. The court is used to apportion representatives and to allocate federal funds to the States and to draw electoral districts. It also helps to allocate federal grant-in-aid benefits, drafting of legislation, urban and regional planning, business planning, and academic and social studies. The census has asked questions about race, sex, age, health, education, occupation, housing, and military service. Everyone is required to answer census questions truthfully and requires D to keep individual answers confidential, including from other Government agencies. There have been 23 decennial censuses and all but one asked at least some of the population about their citizenship or place of birth. Administrative bureaucrats decided that if they asked everyone a question on their citizenship it would discourage noncitizens from responding to the census and lead to a less accurate count of the total population. The Secretary of Commerce (D) decided to reinstate a question about citizenship on the 2020 census questionnaire. D stated that he was acting at the request of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which sought improved data about citizen voting-age population for purposes of enforcing the Voting Rights Act. For the record, D considered three possible courses of action. The first was to continue to collect citizenship information in the American Community Survey and attempt to develop a data model that would more accurately estimate citizenship at the census block level. D rejected that option because the Bureau “did not assert and could not confirm” that such ACS-based data modeling was possible “with a sufficient degree of accuracy.” The second option was to reinstate a citizenship question on the decennial census. The Bureau predicted that doing so would discourage some noncitizens from responding to the census. That would necessitate increased “non-response follow up” operations-procedures the Bureau uses to attempt to count people who have not responded to the census-and potentially lead to a less accurate count of the total population. Option three was to use administrative records from other agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and Citizenship and Immigration Services, to provide DOJ with citizenship data. D combined options 2 and 3. D “carefully considered” the possibility that reinstating a citizenship question would depress the response rate. D also concluded that it was not possible to “determine definitively” whether inquiring about citizenship in the census would materially affect response rates. D noted the long history of the citizenship question on the census, as well as the facts that the United Nations recommends collecting census-based citizenship information, and other major democracies such as Australia, Canada, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Spain, and the United Kingdom inquire about citizenship in their censuses. D determined that “the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate.” Within minutes of making this decision, Ps filed suit in Federal District Court in New York, challenging the decision on several grounds. They alleged that D’s decision violated the Enumeration Clause and the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. A second group of plaintiffs added an equal protection claim. D moved to dismiss the lawsuits. The District Court dismissed the Enumeration Clause claim but allowed the other claims to proceed. D submitted the “administrative record” to the court and plaintiffs. D also submitted a supplemental memo that D had begun considering whether to add the citizenship question in early 2017, and had inquired whether DOJ “would support, and if so would request, inclusion of a citizenship question as consistent with and useful for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.” Ps argued that the supplemental memo indicated that D had submitted an incomplete record of the materials considered by D. Ps moved to compel D to complete the administrative record. The parties jointly stipulated to the inclusion of more than 12,000 pages of additional materials in the administrative record. This additional material confirmed D’s rendition of the events. Claiming that D had responded in bad faith, Ps asked the court to authorize discovery outside the administrative record. The court authorized expert discovery and depositions of certain DOJ and Commerce Department bureaucrats. The District Court held a bench trial and ruled that D’s action was arbitrary and capricious, based on a pretextual rationale, and violated certain provisions of the Census Act. It concluded that Ps had not met their burden of showing that the D was motivated by discriminatory animus. The court vacated D’s decision and enjoined him from reinstating the citizenship question until he cured the legal errors the court had identified. D appealed to the Second Circuit, and filed a petition for writ of certiorari before judgment, asking the Supreme Court to review the District Court’s decision directly because the case involved an issue of imperative public importance, and the census questionnaire needed to be finalized for printing by the end of June 2019. The court granted the petition.