April 22, 2021 – Civil rights groups, civic organizations, and tribal and local governments have secured and presented to the court for approval a final resolution in the federal lawsuit that stopped the federal government from severely shortening the 2020 Census during the pandemic and skewing its results.
The Trump administration had sought to cut short both census data-collection and census data-processing to announce incomplete and inaccurate results before former President Trump’s term ended. After a series of favorable rulings in the case, National Urban League v. Ross (now National Urban League v. Raimondo), the Census Bureau was required to continue collecting full data from tens of millions of U.S. residents from September 11 through October 15. The court prevented the Census Bureau from ending the count on September 30. Millions more U.S. residents were counted through the end of the extended data collection period on October 15. And the Census Bureau agreed to continue the census data processing period into spring 2021, as sought by plaintiffs, instead of improperly ending it before the Trump administration left office.
“From the very start of the 2020 Census, we needed good data, not fast data,” said Senior Counsel and Spitzer Fellow Thomas Wolf of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, which represented the plaintiffs along with other counsel. “The Trump administration flipped the census on its head, attempting to rush both the bureau’s counting and data-processing operations for unconstitutional ends. But today’s resolution and the many victories we’ve achieved in the courts along the way will significantly raise the likelihood that we get the full, fair, and accurate count that the U.S. Constitution guarantees.”
Under the terms of the stipulated order to dismiss the lawsuit submitted to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California for approval today:
- The Census Bureau will continue to process the population numbers for congressional apportionment on an appropriate full timeline and will release those numbers no earlier than April 26, 2021.
- The Census Bureau will include everyone, regardless of citizenship status, in population numbers for congressional apportionment and state-level redistricting.
- The Census Bureau has acknowledged that the “illegal alien” citizenship data it was preparing for former President Trump is statistically unfit for use in apportionment and redistricting.
- The Census Bureau will continue, with the assistance of third parties, to assess the data it obtained during the partially truncated data collection period under the Trump administration — and will provide plaintiffs and the public critical information and bi-monthly reports on its reviews of the quality of the 2020 Census data for the next year.
The plaintiffs in National Urban League v. Raimondo (formerly National Urban League v. Ross) are membership and advocacy organizations, counties, cities, federally recognized Indian tribes, and individuals representing a broad swath of U.S. residents, including historically undercounted populations who were most likely to be missed by a rushed census process: communities of color, low-income individuals, undocumented immigrants, and persons with mental and physical disabilities.
The plaintiffs filed their suit last August in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California when the Trump administration, against the judgment of the Census Bureau’s expert staff, attempted to drastically shorten the timeline for census data collection and processing efforts during the pandemic. The suit alleged that the Trump administration’s actions violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act and the U.S. Constitution and threatened long-term harm in myriad ways, given that census figures are used to reapportion the U.S. House of Representatives; redraw congressional, state, and local electoral districts; and distribute more than $1.5 trillion annually in federal funds for education, food, healthcare, and other needs. The lawsuit also alleged that the speed-up was designed to facilitate an illegal directive from former President Trump that sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from the congressional apportionment.
“Every person deserves to be counted — and we are gratified to have been a part of this remarkable coalition’s critical fight to secure a fair and accurate census for all,” said Sadik Huseny and Melissa Arbus Sherry, the partners at Latham & Watkins LLP who jointly led the litigation. “We thank the Department of Justice for its efforts, throughout the last few months, to bring this case to an appropriate resolution. And more than anything, we are immensely thankful for and humbled by the incredible around-the-clock efforts of the court, the court’s chambers, and the many other judges in the district who assisted under intense time pressure, to provide the many incredibly detailed and thoughtful rulings in this case.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the League of Women Voters, the Navajo Nation, the Gila River Indian Community, Harris County in Texas, Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia of the Harris County Commissioners Court, King County in Washington, the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, the cities of San Jose and Salinas (California), and the City of Chicago, Illinois.
The plaintiffs are represented, in addition to the Brennan Center and Latham & Watkins LLP, by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, among others.
For the stipulated order regarding dismissal, please click here.
For other documents and information about the lawsuit, please click here.
For background on other lawsuits pertaining to the census, please click here.
Damon Hewitt, Acting President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
“We have ensured that the inaccurate citizenship and immigration data gathered in response to the prior administration’s ill-conceived executive order will never be used. Given the far-reaching ramifications of the census—which is used to apportion congressional seats, draw district lines for local and state offices and determine how to distribute trillions of dollars in public funding— the settlement of this case will have long-lasting and life-changing positive consequences nationwide.”
Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League
“Given the nation’s history of using census data to marginalize and exclude Black people from civic participation, National Urban League is especially proud to have played a role in defending the integrity of the 2020 count. The first U.S. Census, which counted African Americans as only three-fifths of a person, cast a long shadow of oppression over the nation’s history. We are hopeful that this settlement sends a message that the weaponization of census data to reinforce white supremacy is a violation of the Constitution and American ideals.”
Mayor Sam Liccardo, City of San Jose
“This settlement vindicates the bedrock principle that in America, everyone counts. Thanks to all of our partners and organizations who stood together through some of our Constitution’s darkest days.”
Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, City of Chicago
“We are deeply pleased by this outcome. Since the beginning of my administration, one of my highest priorities was to ensure all Chicagoans participated in the census—no matter what challenges may have stood in the way. Despite multiple attempts to deter and even frighten residents from participating in the census last year, our city still made tremendous progress in this mission. Now, thanks to this settlement, we are one step closer to fully accomplishing that mission in the future and ensuring that the census remains the vital tool that it is to help cities receive their fair share of federal resources and political voice in D.C.”
President Jonathan Nez, Navajo Nation
“Collecting accurate census data on the Navajo Nation—with the issues of remote addresses, lack of broadband, and other limited resources—is a challenge. The census is critical to funding many of our governmental programs and to ensuring our people have fair representation. The non-response follow-up stage of data collection has been particularly critical in past censuses to collecting a more complete count on the Nation. The Trump Administration’s announcement to cut that period short, in addition to curtailing the time needed for accurate data processing, was unacceptable to the Navajo Nation. The collective effort of the plaintiff governments and groups to restore time for data collection and ensure that census data is accurately processed and finalized is a victory. The Nation will continue to ensure that the census fairly recognizes that the Navajo people are still here, and we count.”
Stephen R. Lewis, Governor, the Gila River Indian Community
“Tribal communities have traditionally been undercounted in the U.S. Census, and the threat of an undercount this year was an issue our community took seriously from the start. So much of our federal funding is tied to an accurate population count, and the steps to cut short the census count by the prior administration would have had a crippling effect on all tribal government budgets across the country. We joined this suit to have our voice heard in this litigation to ensure that all tribal communities across the country were fairly counted and we are grateful for an incredible team that led to this tremendous result today. Latham’s team, which did most of the heavy lifting on this case, did an outstanding job.”
Chair Hilda L. Solis, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor to the First District
“This filing is an important milestone that underscores a fundamental truth: every single resident counts, regardless of immigration status,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis, Supervisor to the First District. “On behalf of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the people we serve, I applaud this action to unwind some of the unconscionable tactics used during the 2020 Census to attempt to undermine the basic rights of our residents. By ensuring that every resident is accounted for we can continue to advocate for and expand essential public services.”
Mike Feuer, Los Angeles City Attorney
“Angelenos have so much riding on accurate census results, from political representation to our fair share of crucial federal funding. We fought because the Trump administration’s attempts to rush the census would have undercounted our residents and hurt our city for a decade. This resolution, achieved with extraordinary partners, will help ensure genuine transparency and fuller, fairer, more reliable results.”
Michael Mutalipassi, Assistant City Attorney, City of Salinas
“Representation is the heart of a republican democracy. But for the efforts of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, many residents of Salinas would not have been counted. The residents of Salinas and the health of our democracy are better off as a result of the efforts of the City of Salinas, its co-plaintiffs, and their counsel.
The Brennan Center for Justiceat NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to reform, revitalize and — when necessary — defend our country’s systems of democracy and justice. )