Dep't of Commerce v. New York, 18-966

Citation139 S.Ct. 2551,204 L.Ed.2d 978
Decision Date27 June 2019
Docket NumberNo. 18-966,18-966
Parties DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, et al., Petitioners v. NEW YORK, et al.
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

139 S.Ct. 2551
204 L.Ed.2d 978

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, et al., Petitioners
NEW YORK, et al.

No. 18-966

Supreme Court of the United States.

Argued April 23, 2019
Decided June 27, 2019

Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco for the petitioners

Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood for respondents New York, et al.

Dale E. Ho for respondents New York Immigration Coalition, et al.

Douglas N. Letter for the U.S. House of Representatives, as amicus curiae, in support of respondents

Peter B. Davidson, General Counsel, David Dewhirst, Senior Counsel to the, General Counsel, Department of Commerce, Noel J. Francisco, Solicitor General, Joseph H. Hunt, Assistant Attorney General, Jeffrey B. Wall, Deputy Solicitor General, Hashim M. Mooppan, Deputy Assistant Attorney, General, Sopan Joshi, Assistant to the Solicitor, General, Mark B. Stern, Gerard J. Sinzdak, Attorneys, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for petitioners

Matthew Colangelo, Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives, Elena Goldstein, Acting Bureau Chief, Civil Rights Bureau, Letitia James, Attorney General, State of New York, Barbara D. Underwood, Counsel of Records, Solicitor General, Steven C. Wu, Deputy Solicitor General, Judith N. Vale, Senior Assistant, Solicitor General, Scott A. Eisman, Assistant Solicitor General, New York, NY, Phil Weiser, Attorney General, State of Colorado, Denver, CO, William Tong, Attorney General, State of Connecticut, Hartford, CT, Kathleen Jennings, Attorney General, State of Delaware, Department of Justice, Wilmington, DE, Karl A. Racine, Attorney General, District of Columbia, Washington, DC, Kwame Raoul, Attorney General, State of Illinois, Chicago, IL, Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, State of Iowa, Des Moines, IA, Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General, State of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, Maura Healey, Attorney General, Commonwealth of, Massachusetts, Boston, MA, Keith Ellison, Attorney General, State of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, State of New Jersey, Trenton, NJ, Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General, State of New Mexico, Santa Fe, NM, Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, State of North Carolina, Department of Justice, Raleigh, NC, Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, State of Oregon, Salem, OR, Josh Shapiro, Attorney General, Commonwealth of, Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA, Peter F. Neronha, Attorney General, State of Rhode Island, Providence, RI, Thomas J. Donovan, Jr., Attorney General, State of Vermont, Montpelier, VT, Robert W. Ferguson, Attorney General, State of Washington, Seattle, WA, Matthew Jerzyk, City Solicitor, City of Central Falls, Central Falls, RI, Edward N. Siskel, Corporation Counsel, City of Chicago, Chicago, IL, Zachary M. Klein, City Attorney, City of Columbus, Columbus, OH, Dennis J. Herrera, City Attorney, City and County of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, Rolando L. Rios, Special Counsel, Counties of Cameron and Hidalgo, San Antonio, TX, Jo Anne Bernal, County Attorney, County of El Paso, El Paso, TX, Charles J. McKee, County Counsel, County of Monterey, Salinas, CA, John Daniel Reaves, General Counsel, U.S. Conference of Mayors, Washington, DC, Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, City of New York, New York, NY, Marcel S. Pratt, City Solicitor, City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, Cris Meyer, City Attorney, City of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ, Yvonne S. Hilton, City Solicitor, City of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, Jeffrey Dana, City Solicitor, City of Providence, Providence, RI, Peter S. Holmes, City Attorney, City of Seattle, Seattle, WA, for Government Respondents.

Chief Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

139 S.Ct. 2561

The Secretary of Commerce decided to reinstate a question about citizenship on the 2020 census questionnaire. A group of plaintiffs challenged that decision on constitutional and statutory grounds. We now decide whether the Secretary violated the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution, the Census Act, or otherwise abused his discretion.



In order to apportion Members of the House of Representatives among the States, the Constitution requires an "Enumeration" of the population every 10 years, to be made "in such Manner" as Congress "shall by Law direct." Art. I, § 2, cl. 3; Amdt. 14, § 2. In the Census Act, Congress delegated to the Secretary of Commerce the task of conducting the decennial census "in such form and content as he may determine." 13 U. S. C. § 141(a). The Secretary is aided in that task by the Census Bureau, a statistical agency housed within the Department of Commerce. See §§ 2, 21.

The population count derived from the census is used not only to apportion representatives but also to allocate federal funds to the States and to draw electoral districts. Wisconsin v. City of New York , 517 U.S. 1, 5–6, 116 S.Ct. 1091, 134 L.Ed.2d 167 (1996). The census additionally serves as a means of collecting demographic information, which "is used for such varied purposes as computing federal grant-in-aid benefits, drafting of legislation, urban and regional planning, business planning, and academic and social studies." Baldrige v. Shapiro , 455 U.S. 345, 353–354, n. 9, 102 S.Ct. 1103, 71 L.Ed.2d 199 (1982). Over the years, the census has asked questions about (for example) race, sex, age, health, education, occupation, housing, and military service. It has also asked about radio ownership, age at first marriage, and native tongue. The Census Act obliges everyone to answer census questions truthfully and requires the Secretary to keep individual answers confidential, including from other Government agencies. §§ 221, 8(b), 9(a).

There have been 23 decennial censuses from the first census in 1790 to the most recent in 2010. Every census between 1820 and 2000 (with the exception of 1840) asked at least some of the population about their citizenship or place of birth. Between 1820 and 1950, the question was asked of all households. Between 1960 and 2000, it was asked of about one-fourth to one-sixth of the population. That change was part of a larger effort to simplify the census by asking most people a few basic demographic questions (such as sex, age, race, and marital status) on a short-form questionnaire, while asking a sample of the population more detailed demographic questions on a long-form questionnaire. In explaining the decision to move the citizenship question to the long-form questionnaire, the Census Bureau opined that "general census information on citizenship had become of less importance compared with other possible questions to be included in the census, particularly in view of the

139 S.Ct. 2562

recent statutory requirement for annual alien registration which could provide the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the principal user of such data, with the information it needed." Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, 1960 Censuses of Population and Housing 194 (1966).1

In 2010, the year of the latest census, the format changed again. All households received the same questionnaire, which asked about sex, age, race, Hispanic origin, and living arrangements. The more detailed demographic questions previously asked on the long-form questionnaire, including the question about citizenship, were instead asked in the American Community Survey (or ACS), which is sent each year to a rotating sample of about 2.6% of households.

The Census Bureau and former Bureau officials have resisted occasional proposals to resume asking a citizenship question of everyone, on the ground that doing so would discourage noncitizens from responding to the census and lead to a less accurate count of the total population. See, e.g. , Federation of Am. Immigration Reform v. Klutznick , 486 F.Supp. 564, 568 (DDC 1980) ("[A]ccording to the Bureau[,] any effort to ascertain citizenship will inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count"); Brief for Former Directors of the U. S. Census Bureau as Amici Curiae in Evenwel v. Abbott , O. T. 2014, No. 14–940, p. 25 (inquiring about citizenship would "invariably lead to a lower response rate").


In March 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced in a memo that he had decided to reinstate a question about citizenship on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire. The Secretary 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 (or VRA)—specifically the Act’s ban on diluting the influence of minority voters by depriving them of single-member districts in which they can elect their preferred candidates. App. to Pet. for Cert. 548a. DOJ explained that federal courts determine whether a minority group could constitute a majority in a particular district by looking to the citizen voting-age population of the group. According to DOJ, the existing citizenship data from the American Community Survey was not ideal: It was not reported at the level of the census block, the basic component of legislative districting plans; it had substantial margins of error; and it did not align in time with the census-based population counts used to draw legislative districts. DOJ therefore formally requested reinstatement of the citizenship question on the census questionnaire. Id. , at 565a–569a.

The Secretary’s memo explained that the Census Bureau initially analyzed, and the...

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