Federal Court Prohibits Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

Update:   On February 15, 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the administration’s appeal of the decision noted below that held that Census 2020 cannot include a question about citizenship status.    Arguments are expected to be heard in April, 2019.

In the first decision on this issue, on January 15, 2019  the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that a question about citizenship status cannot be added to the upcoming 2020 decennial census.  The lawsuit was brought by 18 states and the District of Columbia, 15 cities and counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, along with several non-governmental organizations.

Evidence submitted by the Census Bureau itself during the trial supported the plaintiff’s arguments that asking about citizenship would likely depress the response rate and result in an undercount of the U.S. population.   While holding that there was no violation of the Constitution, in its 277 page opinion, the court found that

if the citizenship question is added to the 2020 census questionnaire, (the plaintiffs) will suffer serious harm in the form of lost political representation, lost federal funding, and degradation of information that is an important tool of state sovereignty.  And at least two of those injuries — the loss of political representation and the degradation of information — would be irreparable.

As we have noted previously, accurate census data is not only essential for governmental purposes, but also for the private sector.

The government has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.  Since the deadline for printing the census questionnaire is June 2019, the case will need to be fast-tracked.  In the meantime, three other lawsuits challenging the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 census are underway.   Stay tuned.