Judge’s Final Ruling To Commerce Secretary-We Are a Govt of Laws, Not of Men

Official logo of United States Census Bureau.

After almost four months of tuning into one of the first of six lawsuits filed suing the Census Bureau and Commerce Department over the hotly contested 2020 census citizenship question, after being introduced to Manhattan District Court Jesse Furman, after extraordinary delaying from the Department of Justice to avoid depositions and trial alike, after all the convoluted twists and turns,

On Tuesday, Judge Furman issued his final ruling, for this court, in a 277-page order on the grounds that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) “in several respects.”

One of the more sobering thoughts that came out of closing arguments. Much has been made about the fact that the citizenship question was taken out in 1950 and has not been included since that time.

Arguing for the American Civil Liberties Union, Arnold & Porter attorney John Freedman invoked other troubling background surrounding the survey.

“We have a history in this country of misusing census data,” Freedman said, citing its use to enact Japanese internment in the 1940s.

Courthouse News

It was because of that misuse of census data that “the United States added confidentiality protections to the census after World War II to prevent such an abuse from happening again.”

As per usual, Courthouse News’ Adam Klasfeld provides us with helpful updates and insights…

For his write up of his developed story on Judge Furman’s ruling: Citizenship Question on 2020 Census Eviscerated by Judge.


The one matter SCOTUS agreed to overturn was the rulings of both the District and Appeals courts’ over the order of the deposing of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. They are subtly reminded here they own some responsibility. This will very likely become important later in any appeals.

It should be noted here, in footnote 7, Furman noted five out of six past Census Bureau Directors opposed the question and all five filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs, the sixth, John Thomas, testified as an expert witness for the Plaintiffs. Four continue to oppose the addition of the question and they “and two other former Directors wrote to Secretary Ross to express “deep concern” about the addition of a question without proper testing.”

Judge Furman concluded in his ruling that while there is “no dispute that the Constitution, the Census Act, and the APA allow the Secretary of Commerce broad discretion over the design and administration of the decennial census,” nor dispute overseeing implementing new directions or policy changes, that does not translate into “unlimited” broad discretion and that “he must comply with the policy that Congress – to which the Constitution gives authority over the census” and that he “must follow the procedures mandated by law” and that exercising his authority according to statute must “be reasonable and reasonably explained.””

Measured against these standards, Secretary Ross’s decisions to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census – even if it did not violate the Constitution itself – was unlawful for the multitude of independent reasons and must be set aside. To conclude otherwise and let Secretary Ross’s decision stand would undermine the proposition – central to the rule of law – that ours is a “government of laws, and not of men.” John Adams, Novanglus Papers, No. 7 (1775). And it would do so with respect to what Congress itself has described as “one of the most critical constitutional functions our Federal Government performs.” 1998 Appropriations Act, §209(a)(5), 111 Stat. at 2480-81.

Accordingly, and for the reasons stated at length above, the Court vacates Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire, enjoins Defendants from implanting Secretary Ross’s March, 26, 2018 decision or from adding a question to the 2020 census questionnaire without curing the legal defects identified in this Opinion, and remands the matter to the Secretary of Commerce (to the extent that such a “remand” is even necessary” for further proceedings not inconsistent with the Court’s Order.

US District Court Southern District NY; pgs 276-77; pdf

Judge Furman later followed up his earlier ruling with an accent 2-page bow on top releasing his final judgement, order of vacatur and permanent injunction to accent his ruling.

Response to the ruling from the Department of Justice:

The response for comment from the Census Bureau:

In case you missed it, you can catch up on the whole convoluted and sorted story, then with the updates, herehereherehere annnd, here.

Stay tuned, only 5 more to go!! 😆

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