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Department of Commerce v. New York

United States Supreme Court

June 27, 2019

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, ET AL., PETITIONERS
v.
NEW YORK, ET AL.

          Argued April 23, 2019

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI BEFORE JUDGMENT TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

         In order to apportion congressional representatives among the States,

the Constitution requires an "Enumeration" of the population every 10 years, to be made "in such Manner" as Congress "shall by Law direct," Art. I, §2, cl. 3; Amdt. 14, §2. In the Census Act, Congress delegated to the Secretary of Commerce the task of conducting the decennial census "in such form and content as he may determine." 13 U.S.C. §141(a). The Secretary is aided by the Census Bureau, a statistical agency in the Department of Commerce. The population count is also used to allocate federal funds to the States and to draw electoral districts. The census additionally serves as a means of collecting demographic information used for a variety of purposes. There have been 23 decennial censuses since 1790. All but one between 1820 and 2000 asked at least some of the population about their citizenship or place of birth. The question was asked of all households until 1950, and was asked of a fraction of the population on an alternative long-form questionnaire between 1960 and 2000. In 2010, the citizenship question was moved from the census to the American Community Survey, which is sent each year to a small sample of households.
In March 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced in a memo that he had decided to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire at the request of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which sought census block level citizenship data to use in enforcing the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The Secretary's memo explained that the Census Bureau initially analyzed, and the Secretary considered, three possible courses of action before he chose a fourth option that combined two of the proposed options: reinstate a citizen- ship question on the decennial census, and use administrative records from other agencies, e.g., the Social Security Administration, to provide additional citizenship data. The Secretary "carefully considered" the possibility that reinstating a citizenship question would depress the response rate, the long history of the citizenship question on the census, and several other factors before concluding that "the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden of the question" outweighed fears about a lower response rate.
Here, two separate suits filed in Federal District Court in New York were consolidated: one filed by a group States, counties, cities, and others, alleging that the Secretary's decision violated the Enumeration Clause and the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act; the other filed by non-governmental organizations, adding an equal protection claim. The District Court dismissed the Enumeration Clause claim but allowed the other claims to proceed. In June 2018, the Government submitted the Commerce Department's "administrative record"-materials that Secretary Ross considered in making his decision-including DOJ's letter requesting reinstatement of the citizenship question. Shortly thereafter, at DOJ's urging, the Government supplemented the record with a new memo from the Secretary, which stated that he had begun considering the addition of a citizenship question in early 2017 and had asked whether DOJ would formally request its inclusion. Arguing that the supplemental memo indicated that the record was incomplete, respondents asked the District Court to compel the Government to complete the administrative record. The court granted that request, and the parties jointly stipulated to the inclusion of additional materials that confirmed that the Secretary and his staff began exploring reinstatement of a citizenship question shortly after his 2017 confirmation, attempted to elicit requests for citizenship data from other agencies, and eventually persuaded DOJ to make the request. The court also authorized discovery outside the administrative record, including compelling a deposition of Secretary Ross, which this Court stayed pending further review. After a bench trial, the District Court determined that respondents had standing to sue. On the merits, it ruled that the Secretary's action was arbitrary and capricious, based on a pretextual rationale, and violated the Census Act, and held that respondents had failed to show an equal protection violation.

         Held:

1. At least some respondents have Article III standing. For a legal dispute to qualify as a genuine case or controversy, at least one plaintiff must "present an injury that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent; fairly traceable to the defendant's challenged behavior; and likely to be redressed by a favorable ruling." Davis v. Federal Election Comm'n, 554 U.S. 724, 733. The District Court concluded that the evidence at trial established a sufficient likelihood that reinstating a citizenship question would result in noncitizen households responding to the census at lower rates than other groups, which would cause them to be undercounted and lead to many of the injuries respondents asserted-diminishment of political representation, loss of federal funds, degradation of census data, and diversion of resources. For purposes of standing, these findings of fact were not so suspect as to be clearly erroneous. Several state respondents have shown that if noncitizen households are undercounted by as little as 2%, they will lose out on federal funds that are distributed on the basis of state population. That is a sufficiently concrete and imminent injury to satisfy Article III, and there is no dispute that a ruling in favor of respondents would redress that harm. Pp. 8-11.
2. The Enumeration Clause permits Congress, and by extension the Secretary, to inquire about citizenship on the census questionnaire. That conclusion follows from Congress's broad authority over the census, as informed by long and consistent historical practice that "has been open, widespread, and unchallenged since the early days of the Republic." NLRB v. Noel Canning, 573 U.S. 513, 572 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment). Pp. 11-13.
3. The Secretary's decision is reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act. The APA instructs reviewing courts to set aside agency action that is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law," 5 U.S.C. §706(2)(A), but it makes review unavailable "to the extent that" the agency action is "committed to agency discretion by law," §701(a)(2). The Census Act confers broad authority on the Secretary, but it does not leave his discretion unbounded. The §701(a)(2) exception is generally limited to "certain categories of administrative decisions that courts traditionally have regarded as 'committed to agency discretion, '" Lincoln v. Vigil, 508 U.S. 182, 191. The taking of the census is not one of those areas. Nor is the statute drawn so that it furnishes no meaningful standard by which to judge the Secretary's action, which is amenable to review for compliance with several Census Act provisions according to the general requirements of reasoned agency decisionmaking. Because this is not a case in which there is "no law to apply," Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 410, the Secretary's decision is subject to judicial review. Pp. 13-16.
4. The Secretary's decision was supported by the evidence before him. He examined the Bureau's analysis of various ways to collect improved citizenship data and explained why he thought the best course was to both reinstate a citizenship question and use citizen- ship data from administrative records to fill in the gaps. He then weighed the value of obtaining more complete and accurate citizenship data against the uncertain risk that reinstating a citizenship question would result in a materially lower response rate, and explained why he thought the benefits of his approach outweighed the risk. That decision was reasonable and reasonably explained, particularly in light of the long history of the citizenship question on the census. Pp. 16-20.
5. The District Court also erred in ruling that the Secretary violated two particular provisions of the Census Act, §6(c) and § 141(f). Section 6's first two subsections authorize the Secretary to acquire administrative records from other federal agencies and state and local governments, while subsection (c) requires the Secretary, to the maximum extent possible, to use that information "instead of conducting direct inquiries." Assuming that §6(c) applies, the Secretary complied with it for essentially the same reasons that his decision was not arbitrary and capricious: Administrative records would not, in his judgment, provide the more complete and accurate data that DOJ sought. The Secretary also complied with §141(f), which requires him to make a series of reports to Congress about his plans for the census. And even if he had violated that provision, the error would be harmless because he fully informed Congress of, and explained, his decision. Pp. 20-23.
6. In order to permit meaningful judicial review, an agency must "'disclose the basis'" of its action. Burlington Truck Lines, Inc. v. United States, 371 U.S. 156, 167-169. A court is ordinarily limited to evaluating the agency's contemporaneous explanation in light of the existing administrative record, Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 435 U.S. 519, but it may inquire into "the mental processes of administrative decisionmakers" upon a "strong showing of bad faith or improper behavior," Overton Park, 401 U.S., at 420. While the District Court prematurely invoked that exception in ordering extra-record discovery here, it was ultimately justified in light of the expanded administrative record. Accordingly, the District Court's ruling on pretext will be reviewed in light of all the evidence in the record, including the extra-record discovery.
It is hardly improper for an agency head to come into office with policy preferences and ideas, discuss them with affected parties, sound out other agencies for support, and work with staff attorneys to substantiate the legal basis for a preferred policy. Yet viewing the evidence as a whole, this Court shares the District Court's conviction that the decision to reinstate a citizenship question cannot adequately be explained in terms of DOJ's request for improved citizenship data to better enforce the VRA. Several points, taken together, reveal a significant mismatch between the Secretary's decision and the rationale he provided. The record shows that he began taking steps to reinstate the question a week into his tenure, but gives no hint that he was considering VRA enforcement. His director of policy attempted to elicit requests for citizenship data from the Department of Homeland Security and DOJ's Office of Immigration Review before turning to the VRA rationale and DOJ's Civil Rights Division. For its part, DOJ's actions suggest that it was more interested in helping the Commerce Department than in securing the data. Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the Secretary's explanation for his decision. Unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale-the sole stated reason-seems to have been contrived. The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public. The explanation provided here was more of a distraction. In these unusual circumstances, the District Court was warranted in remanding to the agency. See Florida Power & Light Co. v. Lorion, 470 U.S. 729, 744. Pp. 23-28.

         351 F.Supp.3d 502, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

          ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court with respect to Parts I and II, and the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts III, IV-B, and IV-C, in which THOMAS, Alito, GORSUCH, and KAV-ANAUGH, JJ., joined; with respect to Part IV-A, in which THOMAS, GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined; and with respect to Part V, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which GORSUCH and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

          OPINION

          ROBERTS CHIEF JUSTICE.

         The Secretary of Commerce decided to reinstate a question about citizenship on the 2020 census questionnaire. A group of plaintiffs challenged that decision on constitutional and statutory grounds. We now decide whether the Secretary violated the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution, the Census Act, or otherwise abused his discretion.

         I

         A

         In order to apportion Members of the House of Representatives among the States, the Constitution requires an "Enumeration" of the population every 10 years, to be made "in such Manner" as Congress "shall by Law direct." Art. I, §2, cl. 3; Amdt. 14, §2. In the Census Act, Congress delegated to the Secretary of Commerce the task of conducting the decennial census "in such form and content as he may determine." 13 U.S.C. §141(a). The Secretary is aided in that task by the Census Bureau, a statistical agency housed within the Department of Commerce. See §§2, 21.

         The population count derived from the census is used not only to apportion representatives but also to allocate federal funds to the States and to draw electoral districts. Wisconsin v. City of New York, 517 U.S. 1, 5-6 (1996). The census additionally serves as a means of collecting demographic information, which "is used for such varied purposes as computing federal grant-in-aid benefits, drafting of legislation, urban and regional planning, business planning, and academic and social studies." Baldrige v. Shapiro, 455 U.S. 345, 353-354, n. 9 (1982). Over the years, the census has asked questions about (for example) race, sex, age, health, education, occupation, housing, and military service. It has also asked about radio ownership, age at first marriage, and native tongue. The Census Act obliges everyone to answer census questions truthfully and requires the Secretary to keep individual answers confidential, including from other Government agencies. §§221, 8(b), 9(a).

         There have been 23 decennial censuses from the first census in 1790 to the most recent in 2010. Every census between 1820 and 2000 (with the exception of 1840) asked at least some of the population about their citizenship or place of birth. Between 1820 and 1950, the question was asked of all households. Between 1960 and 2000, it was asked of about one-fourth to one-sixth of the population. That change was part of a larger effort to simplify the census by asking most people a few basic demographic questions (such as sex, age, race, and marital status) on a short-form questionnaire, while asking a sample of the population more detailed demographic questions on a long-form questionnaire. In explaining the decision to move the citizenship question to the long-form questionnaire, the Census Bureau opined that "general census information on citizenship had become of less importance compared with other possible questions to be included in the census, particularly in view of the recent statutory requirement for annual alien registration which could provide the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the principal user of such data, with the information it needed." Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, 1960 Censuses of Population and Housing 194 (1966).[1]

         In 2010, the year of the latest census, the format changed again. All households received the same questionnaire, which asked about sex, age, race, Hispanic origin, and living arrangements. The more detailed demographic questions previously asked on the long-form questionnaire, including the question about citizenship, were instead asked in the American Community Survey (or ACS), which is sent each year to a rotating sample of about 2.6% of households.

         The Census Bureau and former Bureau officials have resisted occasional proposals to resume asking a citizenship question of everyone, on the ground that doing so would discourage noncitizens from responding to the census and lead to a less accurate count of the total population. See, e.g., Federation of Am. Immigration Reform v. Klutznick, 486 F.Supp. 564, 568 (DC 1980) ("[According to the Bureau[, ] any effort to ascertain citizenship will inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count"); Brief for Former Directors of the U.S. Census Bureau as Amid Curiae in Evenwel v. Abbott, O. T. 2014, No. 14-940, p. 25 (inquiring about citizenship would "invariably lead to a lower response rate").

         B

         In March 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced in a memo that he had decided to reinstate a question about citizenship on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire. The Secretary stated that he was acting at the request of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which sought improved data about citizen voting-age population for purposes of enforcing the Voting Rights Act (or VRA)- specifically the Act's ban on diluting the influence of minority voters by depriving them of single-member districts in which they can elect their preferred candidates. App. to Pet. for Cert. 548a. DOJ explained that federal courts determine whether a minority group could constitute a majority in a particular district by looking to the citizen voting-age population of the group. According to DOJ, the existing citizenship data from the American Community Survey was not ideal: It was not reported at the level of the census block, the basic component of legislative districting plans; it had substantial margins of error; and it did not align in time with the census-based population counts used to draw legislative districts. DOJ therefore formally requested reinstatement of the citizenship question on the census questionnaire. Id., at 565a-569a.

         The Secretary's memo explained that the Census Bureau initially analyzed, and the Secretary considered, three possible courses of action. The first was to continue to collect citizenship information in the American Community Survey and attempt to develop a data model that would more accurately estimate citizenship at the census block level. The Secretary rejected that option because the Bureau "did not assert and could not confirm" that such ACS-based data modeling was possible "with a sufficient degree of accuracy." Id., at 551a.

         The second option was to reinstate a citizenship question on the decennial census. The Bureau predicted that doing so would discourage some noncitizens from responding to the census. That would necessitate increased "non-response follow up" operations-procedures the Bureau uses to attempt to count people who have not responded to the census-and potentially lead to a less accurate count of the total population.

         Option three was to use administrative records from other agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and Citizenship and Immigration Services, to provide DOJ with citizenship data. The Census Bureau recommended this option, and the Secretary found it a "potentially appealing solution" because the Bureau has long used administrative records to supplement and improve census data. Id., at 554a. But the Secretary concluded that administrative records alone were inadequate because they were missing for more than 10% of the population.

         The Secretary ultimately asked the Census Bureau to develop a fourth option that would combine options two and three: reinstate a citizenship question on the census questionnaire, and also use the time remaining until the 2020 census to "further enhance" the Bureau's "administrative record data sets, protocols, and statistical models." Id., at 555a. The memo explained that, in the Secretary's judgment, the fourth option would provide DOJ with the "most complete and accurate" citizen voting-age population data in response to its request. Id., at 556a.

         The Secretary "carefully considered" the possibility that reinstating a citizenship question would depress the response rate. Ibid. But after evaluating the Bureau's "limited empirical evidence" on the question- evidence drawn from estimated non-response rates to previous American Community Surveys and census questionnaires-the Secretary concluded that it was not possible to "determine definitively" whether inquiring about citizenship in the census would materially affect response rates. Id., at 557a, 562a. He also noted the long history of the citizenship question on the census, as well as the facts that the United Nations recommends collecting census-based citizenship information, and other major democracies such as Australia, Canada, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Spain, and the United Kingdom inquire about citizenship in their censuses. Altogether, the Secretary determined that "the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate." Id., at 557a.

         C

         Shortly after the Secretary announced his decision, two groups of plaintiffs filed suit in Federal District Court in New York, challenging the decision on several grounds. The first group of plaintiffs included 18 States, the District of Columbia, various counties and cities, and the United States Conference of Mayors. They alleged that the Secretary's decision violated the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution and the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. The second group of plaintiffs consisted of several non-governmental organizations that work with immigrant and minority communities. They added an equal protection claim. The District Court consolidated the two cases. Both groups of plaintiffs are respondents here.

         The Government moved to dismiss the lawsuits, arguing that the Secretary's decision was unreviewable and that respondents had failed to state cognizable claims under the Enumeration Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. The District Court dismissed the Enumeration Clause claim but allowed the other claims to proceed. 315 F.Supp.3d 766 (SDNY 2018).

         In June 2018, the Government submitted to the District Court the Commerce Department's "administrative record": the materials that Secretary Ross considered in making his decision. That record included DOJ's December 2017 letter requesting reinstatement of the citizenship question, as well as several memos from the Census Bureau analyzing the predicted effects of reinstating the question. Shortly thereafter, at DOJ's urging, the Government supplemented the record with a new memo from the Secretary, "intended to provide further background and context regarding" his March 2018 memo. App. to Pet. for Cert. 546a. The supplemental memo stated that the Secretary had begun considering whether to add the citizenship question in early 2017, and had inquired whether DOJ "would support, and if so would request, inclusion of a citizenship question as consistent with and useful for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act." Ibid. According to the Secretary, DOJ "formally" requested reinstatement of the citizenship question after that inquiry. Ibid.

         Respondents argued that the supplemental memo indicated that the Government had submitted an incomplete record of the materials considered by the Secretary. They asked the District Court to compel the Government to complete the administrative record. The court granted that request, and the parties jointly stipulated to the inclusion of more than 12, 000 pages of additional materials in the administrative record. Among those materials were emails and other records confirming that the Secretary and his staff began exploring the possibility of reinstating a citizenship question shortly after he was confirmed in early 2017, attempted to elicit requests for citizenship data from other agencies, and eventually persuaded DOJ to request reinstatement of the question for VRA enforcement purposes.

         In addition, respondents asked the court to authorize discovery outside the administrative record. They claimed that such an unusual step was warranted because they had made a strong preliminary showing that the Secretary had acted in bad faith. See Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 420 (1971). The court also granted that request, authorizing expert discovery and depositions of certain DOJ and Commerce Department officials.

         In August and September 2018, the District Court issued orders compelling depositions of Secretary Ross and of the Acting Assistant Attorney General for DOJ's Civil Rights Division. We granted the Government's request to stay the Secretary's deposition pending further review, but we declined to stay the Acting AAG's deposition or the other extra-record discovery that the District Court had authorized.

         The District Court held a bench trial and issued findings of fact and conclusions of law on respondents' statutory and equal protection claims. After determining that respondents had standing to sue, the District Court ruled that the Secretary's action was arbitrary and capricious, based on a pretextual rationale, and violated certain provisions of the Census Act. On the equal protection claim, however, the District Court concluded that respondents had not met their burden of showing that the Secretary was motivated by discriminatory animus. The court granted judgment to respondents on their statutory claims, vacated the Secretary's decision, and enjoined him from reinstating the citizenship question until he cured the legal errors the court had identified. 351 F.Supp.3d 502 (SDNY 2019).

         The Government appealed to the Second Circuit, but also filed a petition for writ of certiorari before judgment, asking this Court to review the District Court's decision directly because the case involved an issue of imperative public importance, and the census questionnaire needed to be finalized for printing by the end of June 2019. We granted the petition. 586 U.S. (2019). At the Government's request, we later ordered the parties to address whether the Enumeration Clause provided an alternative basis to affirm. 586 U.S. (2019).

         II

         We begin with jurisdiction. Article III of the Constitution limits federal courts to deciding "Cases" and "Controversies." For a legal dispute to qualify as a genuine case or controversy, at least one plaintiff must have standing to sue. The doctrine of standing "limits the category of litigants empowered to maintain a lawsuit in federal court to seek redress for a legal wrong" and "confines the federal courts to a properly judicial role." Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U.S.__, __(2016) (slip op., at 6). To have standing, a plaintiff must "present an injury that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent; fairly traceable to the defendant's challenged behavior; and likely to be redressed by a favorable ruling." Davis v. Federal Election Comm'n, 554 U.S. 724, 733 (2008).

         Respondents assert a number of injuries-diminishment of political representation, loss of federal funds, degradation of census data, and diversion of resources-all of which turn on their expectation that reinstating a citizenship question will depress the census response rate and lead to an inaccurate population count. Several States with a disproportionate share of noncitizens, for example, anticipate losing a seat in Congress or qualifying for less federal funding if their populations are undercounted. These are primarily future injuries, which "may suffice if the threatened injury is certainly impending, or there is a substantial risk that the harm will occur." Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 573 U.S. 149, 158 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The District Court concluded that the evidence at trial established a sufficient likelihood that the reinstatement of a citizenship question would result in noncitizen households responding to the census at lower rates than other groups, which in turn would cause them to be undercounted and lead to many of respondents' asserted injuries. For purposes of standing, these findings of fact were not so suspect as to be clearly erroneous.

         We therefore agree that at least some respondents have Article III standing. Several state respondents here have shown that if noncitizen households are undercounted by as little as 2%-lower than the District Court's 5.8% prediction-they will lose out on federal funds that are distributed on the basis of state population. That is a sufficiently concrete and imminent injury to satisfy Article III, and there is no dispute that a ruling in favor of respondents would redress that harm.

         The Government contends, however, that any harm to respondents is not fairly traceable to the Secretary's decision, because such harm depends on the independent action of third parties choosing to violate their legal duty to respond to the census. The chain of causation is made even more tenuous, the Government argues, by the fact that such intervening, unlawful third-party action would be motivated by unfounded fears that the Federal Government will itself break the law by using noncitizens' answers against them for law enforcement purposes. The Government invokes our steady refusal to "endorse standing theories that rest on speculation about the decisions of independent actors," Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l USA, 568 U.S. 398, 414 (2013), particularly speculation about future unlawful conduct, Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 105 (1983).

         But we are satisfied that, in these circumstances, respondents have met their burden of showing that third parties will likely react in predictable ways to the citizenship question, even if they do so unlawfully and despite the requirement that the Government keep individual answers confidential. The evidence at trial established that noncitizen households have historically responded to the census at lower rates than other groups, and the District Court did not clearly err in crediting the Census Bureau's theory that the discrepancy is likely attributable at least in part to noncitizens' reluctance to answer a citizenship question. Respondents' theory of standing thus does not rest on mere speculation about the decisions of third parties; it relies instead on the predictable effect of Government action on the decisions of third parties. Cf. Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 169-170 (1997); Davis, 554 U.S., at 734-735. Because Article III "requires no more than de facto causality," Block v. Meese, 793 F.2d 1303, 1309 (CADC 1986) (Scalia, J.), traceability is satisfied here. We may therefore consider the merits of respondents' claims, at least as far as the Constitution is concerned.

         III

         The Enumeration Clause of the Constitution does not provide a basis to set aside the Secretary's decision. The text of that clause "vests Congress with virtually unlimited discretion in conducting the decennial 'actual Enumeration, '" and Congress "has delegated its broad authority over the census to the Secretary." Wisconsin, 517 U.S., at 19. Given that expansive grant of authority, we have rejected challenges to the conduct of the census where the Secretary's decisions bore a "reasonable relationship to the accomplishment of an actual enumeration." Id., at 20.

         Respondents ask us to evaluate the Secretary's decision to reinstate a citizenship question under that "reasonable relationship" standard, but we agree with the District Court that a different analysis is needed here. Our cases applying that standard concerned decisions about the population count itself-such as a postcensus decision not to use a particular method to adjust an undercount, id., at 4, and a decision to allocate overseas military personnel to their home States, Franklin v. Massachusetts, 505 U.S. 788, 790-791 (1992). We have never applied the standard to decisions about what kinds of demographic information to collect in the course of taking the census. Indeed, as the District Court recognized, applying the "reasonable relationship" standard to every census-related decision "would lead to the conclusion that it is unconstitutional to ask any demographic question on the census" because "asking such questions bears no relationship whatsoever to the goal of an accurate headcount." 315 F.Supp.3d, at 804-805. Yet demographic questions have been asked in every census since 1790, and questions about citizenship in particular have been asked for nearly as long. Like the District Court, we decline respondents' invitation to measure the constitutionality of the citizenship question by a standard that would seem to render every census since 1790 unconstitutional.

         We look instead to Congress's broad authority over the census, as informed by long and consistent historical practice. All three branches of Government have understood the Constitution to allow Congress, and by extension the Secretary, to use the census for more than simply counting the population. Since 1790, Congress has sought, or permitted the Secretary to seek, information about matters as varied as age, sex, marital status, health, trade, profession, literacy, and value of real estate owned. See id., at 801. Since 1820, it has sought, or permitted the Secretary to seek, information about citizenship in particular. Federal courts have approved the practice of collecting demographic data in the census. See, e.g., United States v. Moriarity, 106 F. 886, 891 (CC SDNY 1901) (duty to take a census of population "does not prohibit the gathering of other statistics, if 'necessary and proper,' for the intelligent exercise of other powers enumerated in the constitution"). While we have never faced the question directly, we have assumed that Congress has the power to use the census for information-gathering purposes, see Legal Tender Cases, 12 Wall. 457, 536 (1871), and we have recognized the role of the census as a "linchpin of the federal statistical system by collecting data on the characteristics of individuals, households, and housing units throughout the country," Department of Commerce v. United States House of Representatives, 525 U.S. 316, 341 (1999) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         That history matters. Here, as in other areas, our interpretation of the Constitution is guided by a Government practice that "has been open, widespread, and unchallenged since the early days of the Republic." NLRB v. Noel Canning, 573 U.S. 513, 572 (2014) (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment); see also Wisconsin, 517 U.S., at 21 (noting "importance of historical practice" in census context). In light of the early understanding of and long practice under the Enumeration Clause, we conclude that it permits Congress, and by extension the Secretary, to inquire about citizenship on the census questionnaire. We need not, and do not, decide the constitutionality of any other question that Congress or the Secretary might decide to include in the census.

         IV

         The District Court set aside the Secretary's decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the grounds that the Secretary acted arbitrarily and violated certain provisions of the Census Act. The Government contests those rulings, but also argues that the Secretary's decision was not judicially reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act in the first place. We begin with that contention.

         A

         The Administrative Procedure Act embodies a "basic presumption of judicial review," Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 140 (1967), and instructs reviewing courts to set aside agency action that is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law," 5 U.S.C. §706(2)(A). Review is not available, however, "to the extent that" a relevant statute precludes it, §701(a)(1), or the agency action is "committed to agency discretion by law," §701(a)(2). The Government argues that the Census Act commits to the Secretary's unreviewable discretion decisions about what questions to include on the decennial census questionnaire.

         We disagree. To be sure, the Act confers broad authority on the Secretary. Section 141(a) instructs him to take "a decennial census of population" in "such form and content as he may determine, including the use of sampling procedures and special surveys." 13 U.S.C. §141. The Act defines "census of population" to mean "a census of population, housing, and matters relating to population and housing," §141(g), and it authorizes the Secretary, in "connection with any such census," to "obtain such other census information as necessary," §141(a). It also states that the "Secretary shall prepare questionnaires, and shall determine the inquiries, and the number, form, and subdivisions thereof, for the statistics, surveys, and censuses provided for in this title." §5. And it authorizes him to acquire materials, such as administrative records, from other federal, state, and local agencies in aid of conducting the census. §6. Those provisions leave much to the Secretary's discretion. See Wisconsin, 517 U.S., at 19 ("Through the Census Act, Congress has delegated its broad authority over the census to the Secretary.").

         But they do not leave his discretion unbounded. In order to give effect to the command that courts set aside agency action that is an abuse of discretion, and to honor the presumption of judicial review, we have read the §701(a)(2) exception for action committed to agency discretion "quite narrowly, restricting it to 'those rare circumstances where the relevant statute is drawn so that a court would have no meaningful standard against which to judge the agency's exercise of discretion.'" Weyerhaeuser Co. v. United States Fish and Wildlife Serv., 586 U.S.__, __(2018) (slip op., at 12) (quoting Lincoln v. Vigil, 508 U.S. 182, 191 (1993)). And we have generally limited the exception to "certain categories of administrative decisions that courts traditionally have regarded as 'committed to agency discretion, '" id., at 191, such as a decision not to institute enforcement proceedings, Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821, 831-832 (1985), or a decision by an intelligence agency to terminate an employee in the interest of national security, Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 592, 600-601 (1988).

         The taking of the census is not one of those areas traditionally committed to agency discretion. We and other courts have entertained both constitutional and statutory challenges to census-related decisionmaking. See, e.g., Department of Commerce, 525 U.S. 316; Wisconsin, 517 U.S. 1; Carey v. Klutznick, 637 F.2d 834 (CA2 1980).

         Nor is the statute here drawn so that it furnishes no meaningful standard by which to judge the Secretary's action. In contrast to the National Security Act in Webster, which gave the Director of Central Intelligence discretion to terminate employees whenever he "deem[ed]" it "advisable," 486 U.S., at 594, the Census Act constrains the Secretary's authority to determine the form and content of the census in a number of ways. Section 195, for example, governs the extent to which he can use statistical sampling. Section 6(c), which will be considered in more detail below, circumscribes his power in certain circumstances to collect information through direct inquiries when administrative records are available. More generally, by mandating a population count that will be used to apportion representatives, see § 141(b), 2 U.S.C. §2a, the Act imposes "a duty to conduct a census that is accurate and that fairly accounts for the crucial representational rights that depend on the census and the apportionment." Franklin, 505 U.S., at 819-820 (Stevens, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment).

         The Secretary's decision to reinstate a citizenship question is amenable to review for compliance with those and other provisions of the Census Act, according to the general requirements of reasoned agency decisionmaking. Because this is not a case in which there is "no law to apply," Overton Park, 401 U.S., at 410, the Secretary's decision is subject to judicial review.

         B

         At the heart of this suit is respondents' claim that the Secretary abused his discretion in deciding to reinstate a citizenship question. We review the Secretary's exercise of discretion under the deferential "arbitrary and capricious" standard. See 5 U.S.C. §706(2)(A). Our scope of review is "narrow": we determine only whether the Secretary examined "the relevant data" and articulated "a satisfactory explanation" for his decision, "including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made." Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Assn. of United States, Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983) (internal quotation marks omitted). We may not substitute our judgment for that of the Secretary, ibid., but instead must confine ourselves to ensuring that he remained "within the bounds of reasoned decisionmaking," Baltimore Gas & Elec. Co. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 462 U.S. 87, 105 (1983).

         The District Court set aside the Secretary's decision for two independent reasons: His course of action was not supported by the evidence before him, and his stated rationale was pretextual. We focus on the first point here and take up the question of pretext later.

         The Secretary examined the Bureau's analysis of various ways to collect improved citizenship data and explained why he thought the best course was to both reinstate a citizenship question and use citizenship data from administrative records to fill in the gaps. He considered but rejected the Bureau's recommendation to use administrative records alone. As he explained, records are lacking for about 10% of the population, so the Bureau would still need to estimate citizenship for millions of voting-age people. Asking a citizenship question of everyone, the Secretary reasoned, would eliminate the need to estimate citizenship for many of those people. And supplementing census responses with administrative record data would help complete the picture and allow the Bureau to better estimate citizenship for the smaller set of cases where it was still necessary to do so.

         The evidence before the Secretary supported that decision. As the Bureau acknowledged, each approach-using administrative records alone, or asking about citizenship and using records to fill in the gaps-entailed tradeoffs between accuracy and completeness. Without a citizenship question, the Bureau would need to estimate the citizenship of about 35 million people; with a citizenship question, it would need to estimate the citizenship of only 13.8 million. Under either approach, there would be some errors in both the administrative records and the Bureau's estimates. With a citizenship question, there would also be some erroneous self-responses (about 500, 000) and some conflicts between responses and administrative record data (about 9.5 million).

         The Bureau explained that the "relative quality" of the citizenship data generated by each approach would depend on the "relative importance of the errors" in each, but it was not able to "quantify the relative magnitude of the errors across the alternatives." App. 148. The Bureau nonetheless recommended using administrative records alone because it had "high confidence" that it could develop an accurate model for estimating the citizenship of the 35 million people for whom administrative records were not available, and it thought the resulting citizenship data would be of superior quality. Id., at 146, 158-159. But when the time came for the Secretary to make a decision, the model did not yet exist, and even if it had, there was no way to gauge its relative accuracy. As the Bureau put it, "we will most likely never possess a fully adequate truth deck to benchmark" the model-which appears to be bureaucratese for "maybe, maybe not." Id., at 146. The Secretary opted instead for the approach that would yield a more complete set of data at an acceptable rate of accuracy, and would require estimating the citizenship of fewer people.

         The District Court overruled that choice, agreeing with the Bureau's assessment that its recommended approach would yield higher quality citizenship data on the whole. But the choice between reasonable policy alternatives in the face of uncertainty was the Secretary's to make. He considered the relevant factors, weighed risks and benefits, and articulated a satisfactory explanation for his decision. In overriding that reasonable exercise of discretion, the court improperly substituted its judgment for that of the agency.

         The Secretary then weighed the benefit of collecting more complete and accurate citizenship data against the risk that inquiring about citizenship would depress census response rates, particularly among noncitizen households. In the Secretary's view, that risk was difficult to assess. The Bureau predicted a 5.1% decline in response rates among noncitizen households if the citizenship question were reinstated.[2] It relied for that prediction primarily on studies showing that, while noncitizens had responded at lower rates than citizens to the 2000 short-form and 2010 censuses, which did not ask about citizenship, they responded at even lower rates than citizens to the 2000 long-form census and the 2010 American Community Survey, which did ask about citizenship. The Bureau thought it was reasonable to infer that the citizenship question accounted for the differential decline in noncitizen responses. But, the Secretary explained, the Bureau was unable to rule out other causes. For one thing, the evidence before the Secretary suggested that noncitizen households tend to be more distrustful of, and less likely to respond to, any government effort to collect information. For another, both the 2000 long-form census and 2010 ACS asked over 45 questions on a range of topics, including employment, income, and housing characteristics. Noncitizen households might disproportionately fail to respond to a lengthy and intrusive Government questionnaire for a number of reasons besides reluctance to answer a citizenship question-reasons relating to education level, socioeconomic status, and less exposure to Government outreach efforts. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 553a-554a, 557a-558a.

         The Secretary justifiably found the Bureau's analysis inconclusive. Weighing that uncertainty against the value of obtaining more complete and accurate citizenship data, he determined that reinstating a citizenship question was worth the risk of a potentially lower response rate. That decision was reasonable and reasonably explained, particularly in light of the long history of the citizenship question on the census.

         JUSTICE BREYER would conclude otherwise, but only by subordinating the Secretary's policymaking discretion to the Bureau's technocratic expertise. JUSTICE BREYER's analysis treats the Bureau's (pessimistic) prediction about response rates and (optimistic) assumptions about its data modeling abilities as touchstones of substantive reasonableness rather than simply evidence for the Secretary to consider. He suggests that the Secretary should have deferred to the Bureau or at least offered some special justification for drawing his own inferences and adopting his own assumptions. But the Census Act authorizes the Secretary, not the Bureau, to make policy choices within the range of reasonable options. And the evidence before the Secretary hardly led ineluctably to just one reasonable course of action. It called for value-laden decisionmaking and the weighing of incommensurables under conditions of uncertainty. The Secretary was required to consider the evidence and give reasons for his chosen course of action. He did so. It is not for us to ask whether his decision was "the best one possible" or even whether it was "better than the alternatives." FERC v. Electric Power Supply Assn., 577 U.S.__, __(2016) (slip op., at 30). By second-guessing the Secretary's weighing of risks and benefits and penalizing him for departing from the Bureau's inferences and assumptions, JUSTICE BREYER-like the District Court-substitutes his judgment for that of the agency.

         C

         The District Court also ruled that the Secretary violated two particular provisions of the Census Act, §6(c) and §141(f).

         Section 6 has three subsections. Subsections (a) and (b) authorize the Secretary to acquire administrative records from other federal agencies and from state and local governments.[3] Subsection (c) states:

"To the maximum extent possible and consistent with the kind, timeliness, quality and scope of the statistics required, the Secretary shall acquire and use information available from any source referred to in subsection (a) or (b) of this section instead of conducting direct inquiries." 13 U.S.C. §6(c).

         The District Court held, and respondents argue, that the Secretary failed to comply with §6(c) because he opted to collect citizenship data using direct inquiries when it was possible to provide DOJ with data from administrative records alone.

         At the outset, §6(c) may not even apply here. It governs the Secretary's choices with respect to "statistics required." The parties have assumed that phrase refers to census-related data that the Secretary wishes to acquire, but it may instead refer to particular kinds of statistics that other provisions of the Census Act actually do require the Secretary to collect and publish. See, e.g., §41 ("The Secretary shall collect and publish statistics concerning [cotton and cotton production]."); §61 ("The Secretary shall collect, collate, and publish monthly statistics concerning [vegetable and animal oils and the like]."); §91 ("The Secretary shall collect and publish quarterly financial statistics of business operations, organization, practices, management, and relation to other businesses."). If so, §6(c) would seem to have nothing to say about the Secretary's collection of census-related citizenship data, which is not a "statistic" he is "required" to collect.

         Regardless, assuming the provision applies, the Secretary complied with it, for essentially the same reasons that his decision was not arbitrary and capricious. As he explained, administrative records would not, in his judgment, provide the more complete and accurate data that DOJ sought. He thus could not, "consistent with" the kind and quality of the "statistics required," use administrative records instead of asking about citizenship directly. Respondents' arguments to the contrary rehash their disagreement with the Secretary's policy judgment about which approach would yield the most complete and accurate citizenship data. For the reasons already discussed, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the Secretary here.

         We turn now to §141(f), which requires the Secretary to report to Congress about his plans for the census. Paragraph (1) instructs him to submit, at least three years before the census date, a report containing his "determination of the subjects proposed to be included, and the types of information to be compiled," in the census. Paragraph (2) then tells him to submit, at least two years before the census date, a report containing his "determination of the questions proposed to be included" in the census. Paragraph (3) provides:

"[A]fter submission of a report under paragraph (1) or (2) of this subsection and before the appropriate census date, if the Secretary finds new circumstances exist which necessitate that the subjects, types of information, or questions contained in reports so submitted be modified, [he shall submit] are port containing the Secretary's determination of the subjects, types of information, or questions as proposed to be modified."

         The Secretary timely submitted his paragraph (1) report in March 2017. It did not mention citizenship. In December 2017, he received DOJ's formal request. Three months later, in March 2018, he timely submitted his paragraph (2) report. It did propose asking a question about citizenship.

         The District Court held that the Secretary's failure to mention citizenship in his March 2017 report violated §141(f)(1) and provided an independent basis to set aside his action. Assuming without deciding that the Secretary's compliance with the reporting requirement is for courts-rather than Congress-to police, we disagree. The Secretary's March 2018 report satisfied the requirements of paragraph (3): By informing Congress that he proposed to include a citizenship question, the Secretary necessarily also informed Congress that he proposed to modify the original list of subjects that he submitted in the March 2017 report. Nothing in §141(f) suggests that the same report cannot simultaneously fulfill the requirements of paragraphs (2) and (3). And to the extent paragraph (3) requires the Secretary to explain his finding of new circumstances, he did so in his March 2018 memo, which described DOJ's intervening request.

         In any event, even if we agreed with the District Court that the Secretary technically violated § 141(f) by submitting a paragraph (2) report that doubled as a paragraph (3) report, the error would surely be harmless in these circumstances, where the Secretary nonetheless fully informed Congress of, and explained, his decision. See 5 U.S.C. §706 (in reviewing agency action, "due account shall be taken of the rule of prejudicial error").

         V

         We now consider the District Court's determination that the Secretary's decision must be set aside because it rested on a pretextual basis, which the Government conceded below would warrant a remand to the agency.

         We start with settled propositions. First, in order to permit meaningful judicial review, an agency must "disclose the basis" of its action. Burlington Truck Lines, Inc. v. United States, 371 U.S. 156, 167-169 (1962) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 94 (1943) ("[T]he orderly functioning of the process of review requires that the grounds upon which the administrative agency acted be clearly disclosed and adequately sustained.").

         Second, in reviewing agency action, a court is ordinarily limited to evaluating the agency's contemporaneous explanation in light of the existing administrative record. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 435 U.S. 519, 549 (1978); Camp v. Pitts, 411 U.S. 138, 142-143 (1973) (per curiam). That principle reflects the recognition that further judicial inquiry into "executive motivation" represents "a substantial intrusion" into the workings of another branch of Government and should normally be avoided. Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 268, n. 18 (1977); see Overton Park, 401 U.S., at 420.

         Third, a court may not reject an agency's stated reasons for acting simply because the agency might also have had other unstated reasons. See Jagers v. Federal Crop Ins. Corp., 758 F.3d 1179, 1185-1186 (CA10 2014) (rejecting argument that "the agency's subjective desire to reach a particular result must necessarily invalidate the result, regardless of the objective evidence supporting the agency's conclusion"). Relatedly, a court may not set aside an agency's policymaking decision solely because it might have been influenced by political considerations or prompted by an Administration's priorities. Agency policymaking is not a "rarified technocratic process, unaffected by political considerations or the presence of Presidential power." Sierra Club v. Costle, 657 F.2d 298, 408 (CADC 1981). Such decisions are routinely informed by unstated considerations of politics, the legislative process, public relations, interest group relations, foreign relations, and national security concerns (among others).

         Finally, we have recognized a narrow exception to the general rule against inquiring into "the mental processes of administrative decisionmakers." Overton Park, 401 U.S., at 420. On a "strong showing of bad faith or improper behavior," such an inquiry may ...


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