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The Census Case

On July 21, 2020, former President Trump issued an executive memorandum stating that undocumented immigrants would not be treated as persons under the Constitution, and would be excluded from the decennial Census count used to apportion congressional seats in each state for the first time in the history of the United States. Groups across the country, including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, immediately filed lawsuits to challenge the executive memorandum, arguing it contradicted centuries of practice, and clearly violated the Census Act, the Enumeration Clause, and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.  

A three-judge panel of federal court judges in California issued a ruling, stating the executive memorandum violated the Census Act. The case was ultimately voluntarily dismissed, because the Census Bureau did not deliver the 2020 census result to former President Trump before his term ended, and President Joe Biden rescinded the executive memorandum during his first day in office. 

Everyone in the United States relies on a full count of all persons for full political representation and for the fair allocation of millions of dollars in federal funding for public health, education, transportation and neighborhood improvements.
Kristen Clarke

President and Executive Director

Case Timeline and Key Documents

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July 21, 2020

Former President Donald Trump issues an executive memorandum targeting undocumented immigrants, stating that they will not be counted in the 2020 Census. The executive order, named the Apportionment Exclusion Order, directed the Secretary of Commerce to provide former President Trump with census statistics that would not include any undocumented immigrants living in the country. 

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July 27, 2020

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and co-counsel file a lawsuit against the president for his executive memorandum, arguing that it is unconstitutional. The lawsuit claims that the order violates the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Apportionment Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which require that all people be included in the census count for purposes of congressional apportionment. In addition, the lawsuit argues the executive memorandum discriminates against non-white immigrants in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Census Act. The lawsuit is filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California.   

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October 23, 2020

A three-judge panel of the US District Court for the Northern District of California rules former President Trump’s executive memorandum is unconstitutional, writing in their ruling that citizens would face substantial harm to their voting representation, federal funding and redistricting if unauthorized immigrants were to be excluded. The District Court’s ruling also stated that the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution requires a count of all people living in the United States. The Trump administration immediately files an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

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December 18, 2020

A case brought by other plaintiffs in the Southern District of New York, which had also ruled that the executive memorandum violated the Census Act, is heard by the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court rules that, because it was speculative as to whether or not the Biden administration would enforce Trump’s executive memorandum, and, if so, what the effect would be, the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue and the case was not ripe for adjudication. That decision affected other cases, including the one brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. As a result, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court. 

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December 30, 2020

The Census Bureau announces that due to the coronavirus pandemic and last-minute changes by the Trump administration, the release of the 2020 Census results will not be available for several more months. This effectively ends any attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants, as Joe Biden will be sworn-in as the 46th President in a few weeks, and has vowed to rescind the executive order and include everyone in the Census count. 

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January 4, 2020

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law voluntarily dismisses the case. 

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January 20, 2021

 President Biden signs an executive action reversing former President Trump’s order to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the Census count.