Parks v. US Dept. of Commerce, et al.




The year 2020 brought with it a flurry of lawsuits challenging certain policy decisions made for the 2020 U.S. Census. Most of those lawsuits sought to stop the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau from removing "illegal immigrants" from the census apportionment file, as set forth in the President's July 21, 2020 executive order. See, Excluding Illegal Aliens From the Apportionment Base Following the 2020 Census, 85 Fed. Reg. 44679 (Executive Order July 21, 2020). These legal challenges had some force since, just the prior year, the Supreme Court had declared that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census would degrade the accuracy of the census - and for a contrived purpose.

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. Dept. of Commerce, et al., v. New York, et al., 139 S. Ct. 2551, 2576 (2019).

While the apportionment cases of 2020 were in hot dispute, a resident of Wheaton, Maryland, Richard Ameninhat Parks, filed a lawsuit in the District Court of Maryland challenging the 2020 U.S. Census in a different way. Parks claimed that the use of the term "Black" would cause an undercount of African Americans in his district, which in turn would cause his district to miss out on federal funding for various programs and otherwise dilute his voting power. Parks also cited the U.S. Census Bureau's obligations to produce accurate data to the American public under 44 U.S.C. § 3506(e) and Statistical Policy Directive No. 1: Fundamental Responsibilities of Federal Statistical Agencies and Recognized Statistical Units, 79 Fed. Reg. 71609 (December 2, 2014). See, Parks' Amended Complaint, ¶41.


Parks has a daughter who has Salvadorian, Indigenous American, and African ancestry. Parks claimed that members of his family told his daughter that she wasn't Black. Parks also explained his belief on the origin of the term Black and Negro. Ultimately, Parks believed Black to be an arbitrary term for racial classification. See, Parks' Amended Complaint, ¶¶49-50. Parks alleged that many Americans were racially misclassified because their skin color was not always consistent with their ancestry. See, Parks' Amended Complaint, ¶¶59-61. Parks alleged that the current race terms of Black and White work against the malevolent social problems they are designed to prevent. See, Parks' Amended Complaint, ¶¶62,67, 72. Parks stated that he was forced to identify as Black in order to receive social services in his city because of the state's reliance on federal funding. Parks' Amended Complaint, ¶76(B).


The District Court of Maryland had trouble believing that the use of the term Black would cause an undercount for the 2020 U.S. Census. Parks did not have any U.S. Census Bureau reports or studies backing up his claims, nor did he have any expert opinions on the matter. "Parks identifies no survey data, statements by Census Bureau officials, or even anecdotal evidence to support his claim that the undercount is caused by the use of a race question or the term 'black' on the 2020 Census." Parks v. US Dept. of Commerce, et al., 456 F. Supp. 3d 691, 698 (D. Md. 2020). Although the District Court stated that Census Bureau reports and studies were unnecessary to prove an undercount on the 2020 U.S. Census, the District Court required more facts beyond Parks's inherent beliefs.

Where, even construing the Complaint generously, Parks has provided no factual support for his conclusory allegation that the race question or the use of the term 'black' on the 2020 Census will result in an undercount of African Americans, the Court finds that he has not plausibly alleged an injury in fact for standing purposes. Parks v. US Dept. of Commerce, et al., 456 F. Supp. 3d 691, 698 (D. Md. 2020).

The District Court decided that Parks's theory of an undercount to be incoherent and implausible. Parks theory of an undercount may have needed more facts, but Parks theory of racial misclassification was more compelling. However, Parks did not get an opportunity to prove his race misclassification theory. Parks's case was dismissed on April 24, 2020.


The District Court's opinion can be viewed here: https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17897529498904041963&hl=en&as_sdt=40006

Parks v. USDC, et al. (Amended Complaint)
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