Federal Appeals Court Remands Census Case to Maryland Judge to Decide Intentional Discrimination Claim

Fourth Circuit agreed to remand case surrounding discriminatory intent behind the addition of the 2020 census citizenship question
For Immediate Release
Contact
Mary Tablante 202-296-2300, ext. 0114 mtablante@advancingjustice-aajc.org
Michelle Boykins 202-296-2300, ext. 0144 mboykins@advancingjustice-aajc.org
Sandra Hernandez (213) 629-2512 x. 129 shernandez@maldef.org

(GREENBELT, MD) – A federal judge in Maryland will determine whether newly discovered evidence indicates unconstitutional discriminatory intent was behind the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census after an appellate court granted a request to remand the case to the district court today.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit follows a request by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) to return the case to U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel, who presided over the trial on the citizenship question.

“The always-flimsy house of cards shielding the Trump administration’s biased and nefarious intent in adding a citizenship query to Census 2020 is rapidly collapsing,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “We look forward to presenting our enhanced case demonstrating the unlawful nature of the late addition of the citizenship question, and to vindicating one of our most enduring and important constitutional principles.”  

Last week, Hazel indicated that he believed newly discovered evidence presented by MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC raised “a substantial issue” in the only lawsuit still pending that alleges that the Trump administration sought to intentionally discriminate against Latinos and non-citizens when it acted in 2018 to add a citizenship question to the Census.

That new evidence showed direct contact among Thomas B. Hofeller, a GOP strategist, Commerce Department officials, and Trump transition team members about adding the citizenship question in order to shift political power in favor of white voters and away from Hispanic voters. The Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Judge Hazel indicated in a longer opinion issued this week that “it is becoming difficult to avoid seeing that which is increasingly clear. As more puzzle pieces are placed on the mat, a disturbing picture of the decisionmakers’ motives takes shape.”

The Fourth Circuit agreed to remand the case but retains jurisdiction.

“We applaud the Fourth Circuit’s decision to remand this case back to the district court. This will ensure that the Administration’s conduct surrounding the addition of the citizenship question to the census is given a full and fair hearing,” said John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “We are honored to fight for our communities and ensure the census is free from discrimination.”

The court of appeals order also included a concurring opinion by Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. that raises the possibility of issuing a preliminary injunction “to prevent the printing of the Census questionnaire from, at least from the Government’s perspective, rendering the case moot.”

The government has argued that the 2020 census forms must be printed by June 30. However, other officials have disputed that date, indicating an October deadline. 

MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC sued the Trump administration in May 2018 on behalf Latino and Asian American individuals, Native Americans, social service non-profits, state legislative associations, civil rights groups, voting rights organizations, and community partnerships that would be forced to divert resources to combat a potential severe undercount in their respective communities.

On April 5, 2019, Hazel ruled that the addition of the citizenship question violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The court, however, stopped short of granting MALDEF’s and Advancing Justice | AAJC’s claims that the administration’s intention in adding the question was to discriminate against non-citizens and communities of color in the decennial Census, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and that members of the administration conspired to deprive racial minorities of their constitutional right to equal representation.

MALDEF and Advancing Justice | AAJC appealed to the Fourth Circuit on April 14, challenging Hazel’s decision on the question of whether the motive for adding the citizenship question was unconstitutionally discriminatory.

Census data are crucial to allocating seats in Congress, drawing accurate election districts, and ensuring equitable distribution of federal funds for a wide range of vital programs.