Federal Judge Rules Against Inclusion
of Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

A federal judge in New York City recently declared the proposed citizenship question for the 2020 census to be illegal. In his January 15 ruling, Judge Jesse Furman ordered the US Department of Commerce to stop its plans to add the question to the constitutionally mandated survey.

As part of its advocacy for statistics and evidence-based policymaking, the American Statistical Association—together with the American Sociological Association and Population Association of America—filed an amicus brief for the case in November, challenging the scientific justification of the proposed question.

“As three of the primary scientific societies with expertise in the execution and importance of the decennial census, we are very concerned for the lack of scientific justification for the untested addition of the citizenship question to the questionnaire,” wrote Ron Wasserstein, ASA executive director.

In turn, the federal court supported “the conclusion of experts in the field that the question was not well—or even adequately—tested for purposes of the decennial census questionnaire.” Furman went on to describe the proposed citizenship question as “arbitrary and capricious” and said its inclusion in the decennial census would violate the Administrative Procedure Act “in multiple independent ways.” Furman’s ruling cited the ASA joint brief three times.

Science magazine’s Jeff Mervis said the decision “represents a strong vote of confidence in the US statistical community and the value of research.”

In response to Furman’s order, defendants in the case plan to appeal to the Supreme Court to meet the federal government’s June 2019 printing deadline. In the meantime, US Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will need to respond to inquiries from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), chair of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

The ASA has a history of support for an accurate and fair census going back to 1840 and is proud to continue the tradition with the 2020 census. The ASA has been outspoken about the addition of a citizenship question, including when news surfaced of the proposal in January, Ross announced including the question in March, and—most recently—in a Federal Register call for comments in August.

Postscript: The amicus brief has been adapted for the California and Maryland lawsuits on the citizenship question.