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Department of Commerce v. New York

How the 2020 Census revised executive checks.


Docket: 18-966

Date Argued: April 23, 2019

Date Decided: June 27,2019

In proposing a revised census for 2020, Wilbur L. Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, decided to bring back the question of citizenship on the 2020 Census in order to enforce voting rights. However, this could be controversial since many households with illegal individuals will report a lower number of people than are actually present, creating an inaccurate census, which would lower the funding received by the government by the state and local governments. Various cities, states, and mayors from New York challenged Ross , saying that he violated the Constitution and Administrative Procedure Act (APA), an act that controls the procedures by which the federal government creates regulations. This case was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York and after the trial victory it made it to the Supreme Court after an appeal by the US Department of Justice. Supreme Court Justices agreed that he violated the APA. It was argued on April 23, 2019 and decided June 27th of the same year.


Did Ross violate the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution? Were the judges mistaken to decide he violated the Administrative Procedure Act? The Enumeration clause states that representatives are elected according to population.

OUTCOME - 5-4 Majority Decision for NY

The justices ruled that Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, did not violate the Enumeration Clause, but his reasoning for reinstating the citizenship was arbitrary and the census revision would be blocked anyways. The Enumeration Clause exists to know how many representatives each state will get according to the population. It was previously decided that Ross violated this because the state would receive an undercount and then be apportioned less representatives than they should have. However, since previous secretaries had asked about citizenship on the census, the Supreme Court decided that he did not violate the Enumeration Clause since it had given secretaries the power to ask about citizenship before . The census was still not allowed to inquire about citizenship and the justices decided that Ross’s reasoning was inconsistent with how the administration previously worked.


Side 1- New York (respondent)

  • A coalition of entities from New York made an effort to block the decision of the Secretary of Commerce of the Trump Administration to reinstate the question of citizenship on the census

  • Argument (majority): Ross violated the Administrative Procedural Act

  • Argument (dissenting): Ross vitiated the Enumeration Clause

Side 2- Department of Commerce (plaintiff)

  • The Department of Commerce deals with promoting economic growth and the Secretary of Commerce leads this executive department

  • Argument (dissenting): the decision to inquire about citizenship was to enforce the Voting Rights Act


This case opened up new possibilities for challengers of administrative laws by being able to investigate more than just a history of bad behavior from an administration. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that "With today’s decision, the Court has opened a Pandora’s box of pretext-based challenges in administrative law...opponents of future executive actions can be expected to make full use of the Court’s new approach." This court case also illustrates the checks and balances of the executive branch and the function of the arbitrary or capricious test to check whether the administration’s actions are just or not

With this court case and the justices’ new approach to cases challenging the executive administration, challengers have more power to resolve the disputes they have with executive actions.




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