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Case Name California v. Ross PB-CA-0049
Docket / Court 3:18-cv-01865 ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection Take Care
Case Summary
On March 26, 2018, the State of California filed this claim against the Secretary of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau in the U.S. District Court of Northern California. It challenged the defendants' plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census. California alleged that this ... read more >
On March 26, 2018, the State of California filed this claim against the Secretary of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau in the U.S. District Court of Northern California. It challenged the defendants' plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census. California alleged that this question will undermine the defendants' duty to collect an "actual enumeration" of the U.S. population mandated by the Enumeration Clause, Article I of the Constitution. In addition, California claims that the decision to include a citizenship question on the Census violates the Administrative Procedure Act 5 U.S.C. §706 by being arbitrary and capricious and otherwise not in accordance with the law. California sought declaratory and injunctive relief.

California requested a declaratory judgment in addition to a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census, as well as all expenses and attorney fees the court deems appropriate.

California alleged that the citizenship question directly undermines the defendants' duty to capture an actual enumeration of the United States by discouraging non-citizens and citizens who are relatives of non-citizens from participating in the 2020 Census. Moreover, the decision to add such a question was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law. For example, one of the justifications for the question was to help the Department of Justice enforce the Voting Rights Act, Section 2, but California argued that this would only serve to undercount the population used to dilute voter fraud. And finally, it alleged the agency failed to make the changes in accord with their own guidelines and deadlines including under the Information Quality Act. California alleged that it could lose representation in Congress and in the Electoral College as a result of this policy since California has the most foreign born and non-citizen residents of any other state. Moreover, California stands to lose billions of dollars of federal funding from an undercount of the U.S. Census.

The claim initially assigned to Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim, but California declined magistrate judge jurisdiction, so the case was reassigned to U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg.

California filed an amended complaint on May 4, 2018, adding several cities in California as additional plaintiffs.

In response to a motion by the City of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Judge Seeborg ordered that the cases of City of San Jose v. Ross (18-cv-01865-RS) and City of San Jose and Black Alliance for Justice Immigration v. Ross (5:18-cv-02279) be reassigned to his docket.

After choosing to forgo alternative dispute resolution, the parties filed their initial briefs in the summer of 2018. The defendants filed a lengthy Administrative Record on June 8, arguing this was sufficient to avoid further discovery before a decision on the June 21 motion to dismiss.

The court accepted amicus curiae briefs from several advocacy organizations and a bipartisan group of members of Congress. On July 6, the Los Angeles Unified School District filed a motion to intervene in the case.

The court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss on August 17 after an in-person hearing. 2018 WL 7142099. The court found standing, as California had plausibly alleged that its population contained a sufficiently large number of immigrants and non-citizens to result in an “appreciable undercount of those particular subgroups” were the census to include the citizenship question. The defendants thus could not defeat California’s asserted projected loss of congressional representation. On the issue of causation under standing, the court reasoned that the defendants were arguing for too high a standard for the purposes of a motion to dismiss. Alleging that the question would discourage its population from participating, was sufficient for California to plead the defendants would cause the injury. The court also recognized standing for the Black Alliance, as underrepresentation of immigrant communities on the census would frustrate the organization’s mission of fostering racial, economic, and social equality for these communities.

On the issue of the political question doctrine, the claim did not fall within the defendants’ discretion. The Constitution did not grant full discretion to Congress, as prior cases held the Enumeration Clause not to commit exclusive, non-reviewable control to Congress. Where the courts had reserved review, they permitted discretion over the “manner” of implementing the census rather than “how” the census would count the population. Contrary to the defendants’ position, the court found precedent that provided guiding principles for evaluating the calculation methodologies that govern census-related decisions. On the Administrative Procedure Act claim, the court found “considerable precedent” sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss and to support judicial review of the citizenship question decision.

Having found the claims justiciable, the court addressed the defendants’ substantive arguments on the Enumeration Clause claim. The defendants claimed California’s theory would call into question the use of other demographic questions, threatening the federal statistical system. However, the court found that California was not seeking a determination on the constitutionality of census citizenship questions generally, but only under these particular facts. The court called this issue “a close question” but allowed it to survive the motion.

The defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment on November 2, 2018 to which California responded on November 16. That same day, the Los Angeles Unified School District filed its notice of joinder and brief in opposition to the summary judgment motion. The parties filed a series of reply briefs throughout the month of November.

The court held a hearing on the summary judgment motion on December 7, 2018, and denied the motion one week later. 2018 WL 7142097. On the issue of standing, the court found that California’s experts provided sufficient evidence to establish a future injury. San Jose had the additional potential injury of loss of federal funding based on under-representative census data. BAJI satisfied its organization injury with its Director’s testimony on the resources already expended to encourage census participation. The evidence was also sufficient to prove causation. On the substantive Enumeration Clause claim, the court noted that it had already rejected the defendants’ theory that the clause required only a person-by-person headcount and found California’s evidence sufficient to establish a material dispute of fact. On the merits of the Administrative Procedure Act claim, the court found that on the Administrative Record alone, neither party was entitled to summary judgment on this issue. It was too early to determine whether the decision was pretextual, and the court found a material dispute as to whether the Secretary considered relevant data in making his decision. Additionally, the court recognized that assessing the credibility of Census Bureau’s analysis was an issue for trial.

California also argued that the decision exceeded the Secretary’s statutory authority under the Administrative Procedure Act. The San Jose plaintiffs sought summary judgment with respect to a specific provision of the statute. The first provision provides that the Secretary can make changes to the proposed census questions only if he or she finds “new circumstances” make the changes necessary. The court found the issue required resolving credibility determinations and making inferences that could not be made at the summary judgment stage. The provision that San Jose cited requires the Secretary to rely on administrative records rather than direct inquiries to the maximum extent possible when collecting data on behalf of other agencies. San Jose argued the Secretary violated this by including the citizenship question rather than obtaining that information from existing records. The court denied both parties’ motions for summary judgment on this provision, as the issue required a factual examination of whether the Secretary had a valid basis for adding the question rather than examining the records.

After the case survived summary judgment, the parties began preparing for trial. The bench trial began on January 7, 2019. Throughout the bench trial, groups continued to offer amicus briefs. The same day as closing arguments, February 15, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the related case, State of New York v. Department of Commerce. 2019 WL 331100. Given that this case would be controlling on the court here, the defendants recommended the court defer its ruling until the Supreme Court proceedings had finished. The plaintiffs opposed staying the case, and the court agreed.

On March 6, 2019 the court held that the decision to add a citizenship question violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Enumeration Clause. 2019 WL 1052434. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the court found the decision to have been arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law. Notwithstanding the discretion given to the Secretary, the court found that the addition of the citizenship question would result in a significant undercount. The court recognized the standing of all plaintiffs involved. Accordingly, in its March 13 order, the court entered judgment for the plaintiffs on the Enumeration, Fourteenth Amendment, and Administrative Procedure Act claims. The court entered judgment for the defendants on San Jose’s claim under the Apportionment Clause, finding the city failed to establish standing, as it could not demonstrate that it would be particularly harmed even if California lost congressional representation. The court vacated the Secretary’s decision and remanded to the Department of Commerce. Per the decision on the Administrative Procedure Act claim, the court issued a permanent injunction against including a citizenship question unless (1) the defendants establish that the question would be a necessary substitute where the administrative records would not suffice, (2) identify new circumstances to make the question necessary, and (3) the Secretary considers all relevant factors and evidence and explains his decision. Technical compliance with the Act alone would not reverse the injunction.

The defendants appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where this case is pending the decision on appeal as of March 2019.

Will McCartney - 04/05/2018
Erica Lignell - 03/20/2019

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Access to public accommodations - governmental
Government Services (specify)
Payment for care
Public assistance grants
Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)
Plaintiff Type
State Plaintiff
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Defendant(s) Department of Commerce
U.S. Census Bureau
Plaintiff Description State of California, City of San Jose, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 03/26/2018
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing PB-NY-0032 : State of New York v. U.S. Department of Commerce (S.D.N.Y.)
PB-MD-0005 : Kravitz v. United States Department of Commerce (D. Md.)
PB-MD-0006 : La Unión Del Pueblo Entero v. Ross (D. Md.)
PB-NY-0033 : New York Immigration Coalition v. U.S. Department of Commerce (S.D.N.Y.)
PB-MD-0004 : NAACP v. Bureau of the Census (D. Md.)
PB-CA-0051 : San Jose v. Ross (N.D. Cal.)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Calendar of Upcoming Deadlines and Hearings for Census 2020 Cases
Date: Mar. 29, 2019
(Brennan Center for Justice)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  2020 Census Litigation
(The Brennan Center)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

3:18-cv-1865 (N.D. Cal.)
PB-CA-0049-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/20/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
PB-CA-0049-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/26/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 12]
PB-CA-0049-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/04/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Dismissing Motions to Dismiss [ECF# 75] (N.D. Cal.)
PB-CA-0049-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/17/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Motions for Summary Judgment and for Partial Summary Judgment [ECF# 114] (N.D. Cal.)
PB-CA-0049-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/14/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion in Limine [ECF# 150] (N.D. Cal.)
PB-CA-0049-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/04/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Re Plaintiffs' Requests for Judicial Notice [ECF# 185] (N.D. Cal.)
PB-CA-0049-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/17/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 205] (N.D. Cal.)
PB-CA-0049-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/06/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Final Judgment, Order of Vacatur, and Permanent Injunction [ECF# 207] (N.D. Cal.)
PB-CA-0049-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/13/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Seeborg, Richard G. (N.D. Cal.) show/hide docs
PB-CA-0049-0002 | PB-CA-0049-0003 | PB-CA-0049-0004 | PB-CA-0049-0005 | PB-CA-0049-0006 | PB-CA-0049-0007 | PB-CA-0049-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bee, Maria (California) show/hide docs
Bernstein, Erin Brianna (California) show/hide docs
PB-CA-0049-0009 | PB-CA-0049-9000
Boutin, Gabrielle Downey (California) show/hide docs
PB-CA-0049-0001 | PB-CA-0049-9000
Carter, Margaret L. (California) show/hide docs
PB-CA-0049-0009 | PB-CA-0049-9000
Coleman, Charles Lagrange III (California) show/hide docs
Evans, Sue Ann Salmon (California) show/hide docs
Ferrari, Anna Theresa (California) show/hide docs
Flores, Valerie L. (California) show/hide docs
PB-CA-0049-0009 | PB-CA-0049-9000
Grabarsky, Todd (California) show/hide docs
Holmquist, David (California) show/hide docs
Holtzman, David Ilan (California) show/hide docs
Kenealy, Kathleen Alice (California) show/hide docs
Levine, Harvey (California) show/hide docs
Luebberke, John Michael (California) show/hide docs
PB-CA-0049-0009 | PB-CA-0049-9000
Mais, Michael John (California) show/hide docs
PB-CA-0049-0009 | PB-CA-0049-9000
McPherson, Malia (California) show/hide docs
Skelly, Noreen Patricia (California) show/hide docs
Suvor, Daniel R (California) show/hide docs
Wise, R Matthew (California) show/hide docs
PB-CA-0049-0001 | PB-CA-0049-9000
Yeomans, Keith Alexander (California) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Bailey, Kate (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Ehrlich, Stephen (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Federighi, Carol (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Shumate, Brett (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Tomlinson, Martin (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Wells, Carlotta (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Wydra, Elizabeth B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Other Lawyers Delery, Stuart F. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Dixon, Megan (California) show/hide docs
Espiritu, Nicholas David (California) show/hide docs
Johansen, Robin Bradle (California) show/hide docs
Kleinbrodt, Julian Wolfe (California) show/hide docs
Kozina, Vladimir F. (California) show/hide docs
Mugmon, Michael A. (California) show/hide docs
Southwell, Alexander H. (New York) show/hide docs
Weir, Bryan K. (Virginia) show/hide docs

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