The Case for Race - the Third Amended Complaint
The premise of my Third Amended Complaint hinged on the idea that the U.S. Census’ race categories were outdated and failed to represent America’s increasingly diverse population. My legal action centered around an imperative to ensure all American communities are accurately represented, particularly those of Middle Eastern and North African descent, a classification often conflated with broader racial categories in federal data collection.
Many private and public programs, including critical federal programs like Medicare and the National School Lunch Program among others, rely on precise and equitable data. As a solo practitioner that litigate cases where race can become an issue, I brought suit against the agencies involved in the classification of the federal race groups: the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Census Bureau's race categories have a complex history. America has an ever-evolving understanding of race, coupled with shifts in societal and political landscapes that have influenced these classifications. In my complaint, I outlined the Census Bureau's journey from its inception, where race categories were as rudimentary as "Free White males" and "Slaves," to more nuanced and numerous groups attempting to capture America's increasing diversity.
However, these categories historically were not grounded in scientific fact. Race, as defined by modern science, lacks a clear genetic or biological basis and is better understood as a social construct with no distinct subgroups warranting separate biological classifications within the Homo sapiens species. This understanding was the basis of my argument: that the Census' race categories are built on outdated notions that cannot withstand the scrutiny of modern genetics, which shows that human ancestral origins are ultimately African and genetic variation within so-called racial groups exceeds that between them.
Scientifically, racial categories stand on shaky ground. The human species is genetically homogeneous, with variations within so-called racial groups being larger than those between these groups. It is a fact that across the globe, human genetic diversity follows a gradient more related to geography than to the traditional categories of race, undermining the very premise of distinct racial classifications. For years, this lack of scientific grounding led to arbitrary classification and misrepresentation.
Furthermore, the 1997 OMB Rule, which guided the 2020 Census classifications, clung to terms like "White" and "Black" in ways that are over-inclusive and vague, muddying the waters for many Americans who find such labels inapplicable or misleading. The definitions provided were inconsistent and failed to account for the multiracial and multiethnic reality of our nation. The rule's lack of distinction between race and ethnicity has led to widespread confusion, compelling many individuals to make choices that do not reflect their identity or, worse, feel excluded from the Census categories altogether.
The logical inconsistencies in the current race system were another critical issue I highlighted in my complaint. For instance, the category "American Indian or Alaskan Native" confusingly required tribal affiliation or community attachment, thereby excluding many who may have ancestral connections but not formal ties to a tribe. On the other hand, individuals from the MENA region faced a dilemma, often inaccurately absorbed into the "White" category against their sociocultural identity, demonstrating how the present categories inadequately map onto modern American society's composition.
As an advocate for accuracy and integrity in federal data collection, I challenged these logical fallacies head-on. My complaint underscored the gravity of using outdated and scientifically debunked notions of race to inform policies and allocate critical resources. The MENA group's exclusion, in particular, emphasizes how the failure to recognize such communities undermines the Census's ability to effectively serve its purpose—a cornerstone for policymaking, resource allocation, and representation.
The complaint also shed light on the empirical evidence from the Census Bureau's own research, which suggests more precise categories will improve the accuracy of census data. The Bureau's tests with combined questions on race and ethnicity reported lower nonresponse rates, pointing to a more inclusive and accurate collection method that better reflects public understanding and self-identification.
Given the scientific evidence, the historical use of census data in various federal programs, and the potential detrimental impact of inaccurate race data, my lawsuit urged a necessary review and revision of the standards used. Now, with the Biden Administration's move toward an update, we're acknowledging these scientific and logical discrepancies in the race categories and taking a step toward more realistic and inclusive data representation.
You can review the third amended complaint below.