U.S. District Judge Richard Se eborg of the Northern District of California. Photo: Jason Doiy/ALM

A federal judge in San Francisco has issued a decision finding that the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 U.S. Census was “arbitrary and capricious.”

In a 126-page ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross decided to add the question despite evidence provided by Census Bureau officials that it would likely significantly depress the response rates in noncitizen and Latino communities. Seeborg found that the decision violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a similar conclusion that Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York reached in a January decision in a similar legal challenge to the question.

“The record in this case has clearly established that including the citizenship question on the 2020 Census is fundamentally counterproductive to the goal of obtaining accurate citizenship data about the public,” Seeborg wrote. “This question is, however, quite effective at depressing self-response rates among immigrants and noncitizens, and poses a significant risk of distorting the apportionment of congressional representation among the states. In short, the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census threatens the very foundation of our democratic system—and does so based on a self-defeating rationale.”

The census question issue has already been teed up for argument at the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices last month agreed to hear oral arguments during the second week of April in the government’s appeal of Furman’s ruling. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco had asked the court to hear the case on an expedited basis due to a June 30 deadline for finalizing the census questionnaire for printing.

While the New York case involved only APA claims, the case before Seeborg also brought a Constitutional challenge to the decision under the Enumeration Clause. On the Constitutional issue Seeborg found for the plaintiffs in the two consolidated cases before him, one brought by the state of California and the other by the city of San Jose and a nonprofit immigration organization.

“In short, Secretary Ross’s decision to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census undermines the ‘strong constitutional interest in [the] accuracy’ of the census, and does so despite the fact that adding this question does not advance any identifiable government purpose,” Seeborg wrote.

John Libby, a partner with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips which was co-counsel with The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Public Counsel in the San Jose case, pointed out that Seeborg found the Constitutional violation as well as “significant violations of Congressional requirements and administrative procedure in Secretary Ross’s decision.”

“We are pleased with this ruling as another step in the fight against this Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, and look forward to defending it, including in the Supreme Court,” Libby said.

Read Seeborg’s decision: