University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
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
Attorney Organization Brennan Center for Justice
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 (APA) 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 undermined the defendants' duty to capture an actual enumeration of the United States by discouraging non-citizens and citizens who related to non-citizens from participating in the 2020 Census. California also argued the decision was arbitrary and capricious under the APA. Finally, California alleged the agency failed to make the changes in accord with its own guidelines and deadlines, including under the Information Quality Act. California alleged that the state could lose representation in Congress and in the Electoral College as a result of this policy as California has the most foreign born and non-citizen residents of any other state. Moreover, California stated that it stood to lose billions of dollars of federal funding from an undercount in the U.S. Census.

The claim was initially assigned to Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim, but as California declined magistrate judge jurisdiction, 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 case of City of San Jose v. Ross be reassigned to his docket and the discovery schedules consolidated.

After choosing to forgo alternative dispute resolution, the parties filed their initial briefs in the summer of 2018. The government 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 Commerce Department’s 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. On the issue of causation, the court reasoned that the Commerce Department was 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 government 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.

Having found the claims justiciable, the court addressed the Commerce Department’s substantive arguments on the Enumeration Clause claim. The department claimed California’s theory would call into question the use of other demographic questions, threatening the federal statistical system. However, the court determined that California was not seeking a determination on the constitutionality of census citizenship questions generally, but only under these particular facts.

The Commerce Department 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 denied the motion on December 14, 2018. 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. On the substantive Enumeration Clause claim, the court noted that it had already rejected the government's 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 APA 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 APA. The San Jose plaintiffs sought summary judgment with respect to a specific provision of the statute. The first provision provided that the Secretary could make changes to the proposed census questions only if he or she found “new circumstances” made 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 required the Secretary 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.

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 APA and the Enumeration Clause. 2019 WL 1052434. Under the APA, 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 APA 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 APA 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. The defendants appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court issued its opinion in New York before the Ninth Circuit could rule on the matter.

The Supreme Court ruled in Department of Commerce v. New York on June 27, 2019, that the addition of the citizenship question was permitted, but that the agency action was reviewable under the APA. The Court held that since there was a disconnect between the evidence available to the agency when it made the decision and the explanation offered, the explanation appeared pretextual. The Court allowed the injunction to stand and remanded the case back to the district court for further inquiry. 588 U.S.__(2019).

Once the Supreme Court issued its ruling, California moved for a permanent injunction to enter final judgement after remand on July 30, 2019. Judge Seeborg granted this order on August 1. California and the Los Angeles Unified School District each sought attorney fees on August 15. California filed a notice that attorney fees and costs had been settled on November 1st.

As the census has concluded, so too has this case.

Will McCartney - 04/05/2018
Erica Lignell - 03/20/2019
John Duffield - 08/03/2021

compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Enumerations Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Immigration status
National origin discrimination
Race discrimination
Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)
National Origin/Ethnicity
Plaintiff Type
State Plaintiff
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Ex Parte Young (Federal) or Bivens
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.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Brennan Center for Justice
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 03/26/2018
Case Closing Year 2020
Case Ongoing No
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
click to show/hide detail
  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 ]

Court Docket(s)
N.D. Cal.
PB-CA-0049-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Cal.
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
PB-CA-0049-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 12]
PB-CA-0049-0009.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
Order Dismissing Motions to Dismiss [ECF# 75]
PB-CA-0049-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
Order Denying Motions for Summary Judgment and for Partial Summary Judgment [ECF# 114]
PB-CA-0049-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion in Limine [ECF# 150]
PB-CA-0049-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
Order Re Plaintiffs' Requests for Judicial Notice [ECF# 185]
PB-CA-0049-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 205]
PB-CA-0049-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
Final Judgment, Order of Vacatur, and Permanent Injunction [ECF# 207]
PB-CA-0049-0007.pdf | Detail
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 B. (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

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -