June 28, 2019
Decided June 27, 2019
Department of Commerce v. New York, No. 18-966
Yesterday, the Supreme Court held that the Secretary of Commerce’s decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census violates the Administrative Procedure Act because the Secretary’s stated rationale—though reasonable and reasonably explained—was contrived.
To apportion Members of the House of Representatives among the States, the Constitution requires an “Enumeration” of the population every ten years, “in such Manner” as Congress “shall by Law direct.” Congress enacted the Census Act and delegated to the Secretary of Commerce the task of conducting the census “in such form and content as he may determine.” 13 U.S.C. § 141(a). In every census between 1820 and 1950, all households were asked about citizenship or place of birth. Since 1950, however, only some households have been asked these questions. Last year, the Secretary of Commerce announced that the 2020 census would reinstate a question about citizenship in order to collect data to aid the government in enforcing the Voting Rights Act. A group of state and local governments filed suit, alleging that the Secretary’s decision violates the Enumeration Clause and the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court dismissed the Enumeration Clause claim, but authorized discovery outside the administrative record on the other claims. The district court then held that the Secretary’s decision was not supported by the evidence before him, rested on a pretextual basis, and violated the Census Act. The Secretary appealed directly to the Supreme Court.
Did the Secretary’s decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census violate the Administrative Procedure Act?
Yes. Although the Secretary’s decision was reasonable and supported by the evidence, the district court was warranted in remanding the case to the agency because the Secretary’s stated rationale was contrived.
“Reasoned decisionmaking under the Administrative Procedure Act calls for an explanation for agency action. What was provided here was more of a distraction.”
Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority
What It Means:
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