Trump v. New York (2020)

592 U.S. ___ (2020)

Decision: Reversed
Vote: Per Curiam
Dissent: Breyer, joined by Sotomayor, Kagan


Congress has given both the Secretary of Commerce and the President functions to perform in the enumeration and apportionment process. The Secretary must “take a decennial census of population … in such form and content as he may determine,” 13 U. S. C. §141(a), and then must report to the President “[t]he tabulation of total population by States” under the census “as required for the apportionment,” §141(b). The President in turn must transmit to Congress a “statement showing the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed, as ascertained” under the census. 46 Stat. 26, 2 U. S. C. §2a(a). In that statement, the President must apply a mathematical formula called the “method of equal proportions” to the population counts in order to calculate the number of House seats for each State.

This past July, the President issued a memorandum to the Secretary respecting the apportionment following the 2020 census. The memorandum announced a policy of excluding “from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status.” To facilitate implementation “to the maximum extent feasible and consistent with the discretion delegated to the executive branch,” the President ordered the Secretary, in preparing his §141(b) report, “to provide information permitting the President, to the extent practicable, to exercise the President’s discretion to carry out the policy.” … The President directed the Secretary to include such information in addition to a tabulation of population according to the criteria promulgated by the Census Bureau for counting each State’s residents.

This case arises from one of several challenges to the memorandum brought by various States, local governments, organizations, and individuals. A three-judge District Court held that the plaintiffs, appellees here, had standing to proceed in federal court because the memorandum was chilling aliens and their families from responding to the census, thereby degrading the quality of census data used to allocate federal funds and forcing some plaintiffs to divert resources to combat the chilling effect …

A foundational principle of Article III is that “an actual controversy must exist not only at the time the complaint is filed, but through all stages of the litigation.” … As the plaintiffs concede, any chilling effect from the memorandum dissipated upon the conclusion of the census response period. The plaintiffs now seek to substitute an alternative theory of a “legally cognizable injury” premised on the threatened impact of an unlawful apportionment on congressional representation and federal funding … As the case comes to us, however, we conclude that it does not—at this time—present a dispute “appropriately resolved through the judicial process.” …

Two related doctrines of justiciability—each originating in the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III— underlie this determination … First, a plaintiff must demonstrate standing, including “an injury that is concrete particularized, and imminent rather than conjectural or hypothetical.” … Second, the case must be “ripe”—not dependent on “contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all.” …

At present, this case is riddled with contingencies and speculation that impede judicial review. The President, to be sure, has made clear his desire to exclude aliens without lawful status from the apportionment base. But the President qualified his directive by providing that the Secretary should gather information “to the extent practicable” and that aliens should be excluded “to the extent feasible.” … Any prediction how the Executive Branch might eventually implement this general statement of policy is “no more than conjecture” at this time …

While the plaintiffs agree that the dispute will take a more concrete shape once the Secretary delivers his report under §141(b) … they insist that the record already establishes a “substantial risk” of reduced representation and federal resources, Clapper v Amnesty Int’l (2013). That conclusion, however, involves a significant degree of guesswork. Unlike other pre-apportionment challenges, the Secretary has not altered census operations in a concrete manner that will predictably change the count … The count here is complete; the present dispute involves the apportionment process, which remains at a preliminary stage. The Government’s eventual action will reflect both legal and practical constraints, making any prediction about future injury just that—a prediction …

At the end of the day, the standing and ripeness inquiries both lead to the conclusion that judicial resolution of this dispute is premature. Consistent with our determination that standing has not been shown and that the case is not ripe, we express no view on the merits of the constitutional and related statutory claims presented. We hold only that they are not suitable for adjudication at this time.

The judgment of the District Court is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

It is so ordered.


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