Administrative Procedures Act

A federal district court has held that a question about citizenship may not be included in the 2020 census. The Trump administration is likely to appeal this ruling to the Second Circuit, and it is likely the Supreme Court will ultimately resolve the dispute. Additional challenges to including this question have been brought but not yet decided.  

Judge Furman summarizes the significance of having an accurate census for state and local governments in his 277-page opinion:  “[The census] is used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal, state, and local funds. Even small deviations from an accurate count can have major implications for states, localities, and the people who live in them — indeed, for the country as a whole.”

In a decision difficult to understand without context the Supreme Court held that “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) must also be habitat. In Weyerhaeuser Co. v. United State Fish and Wildlife Service the Court also held a federal court may review an agency decision not to exclude an area from critical habitat because of the economic impact. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief on the latter issue arguing in favor of the result the Court reached.

The United State Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) listed the dusky gopher frog as an endangered species. It designated as its “critical habitat” a site called Unit 1 in Louisiana owned or leased by Weyerhaeuser Company, a timber company. The frog hasn’t been seen at this location since 1965. As of today Unit 1 has all of the features the frog needs to survive except “open-canopy forests,” which the Services claims can be restored with “reasonable effort.”

Weyerhaeuser argued Unit 1 could not be a “critical habitat” for the frog because it could not survive without an open-canopy forests. The Fifth Circuit disagreed holding that the definition of critical habitat contains no “habitability requirement.”

The Supreme Court held unanimously that “critical habitat” must be habitat. The ESA states that when the Secretary lists a species as endangered he or she must also “designate any habitat of such species which is then considered to be critical habitat.”

In March 2018 Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a memorandum stating a citizenship question would be added to the 2020 census questionnaire. In In Re Department of Commerce the Supreme Court will not be deciding whether this question may be legally added. Instead, the Court will decide—among other things—whether Secretary Ross may be deposed as to his motives for adding this question.

A number of state and local governments and nonprofits sued the Secretary claiming that adding this question is arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

In the 2018 memorandum Secretary Ross stated that he “began a thorough assessment” of whether to add a citizenship question “[f]ollowing receipt” of a December 2017 letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition against diluting the voting power of minority groups.

The same day Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced his plan to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census California filed a complaint seeking an injunction preventing the question from being added. The next day New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he would lead a multi-state lawsuit challenging the question.

In December 2017 the Department of Justice (DOJ) requested that a question about citizenship be added to help DOJ more effectively enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in voting. Citizenship has not been asked about in the biennium census since 1950.

The Supreme Court will not be involved in the DACA litigation—for now.  

The Supreme Court denied the Trump administration’s request for it to review a California federal district court decision temporarily putting the administration’s decision to terminate DACA on hold. To get relief, the Trump administration must now appeal the district court decision to the Ninth Circuit. The Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court to get involved in this case before the Ninth Circuit had a chance to rule. The Supreme Court does not usually rule on federal district court decisions.

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