Making Sense of the Census Litigation

  • 23 Oct 2019

Litigation over adding a question to the 2020 decennial census that would require respondents to identify the citizenship status of every member of their households was one of the most consequential and prominent legal issues of 2019. Plaintiffs alleged that adding the question would cause a disproportionate undercount in states with high numbers of non-English speakers, immigrants, and people of color, resulting in an inaccurate and incomplete head count. The citizenship question presented serious implications, including effects on the distribution of political representation, the apportionment of federal funds among states and localities, allocation of resources, including to organizations that serve the Asian Pacific American community, and language access at the polls.

On July 16, 2019, after the U.S. Supreme Court held that the U.S. Department of Commerce's sole stated rationale-that adding the citizenship question would facilitate enforcement of the Voting Rights Act-"seems to have been contrived," the District Court of Maryland permanently enjoined the U.S. government from including the citizenship question on the 2020 census.

We will discuss the litigation, the 2020 census, and its real-world consequences with:

  • Shankar Duraiswamy, lead counsel in Kravitz v. Department of Commerce, a lawsuit brought in the District of Maryland by individuals from Maryland and Arizona, challenging the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 census. He is a partner in the litigation practice at Covington & Burling. He represents clients in high-stakes, complex litigation matters. An experienced advocate, Shankar has litigated in numerous federal and state courts, handling cases from inception through trial and appeal.

Shankar's work on Census and redistricting issues is part of his broader civil rights pro bono practice. Working alongside the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and ACLU, Shankar recently secured a historic settlement on behalf of low-income Detroit homeowners challenging unlawful and racially discriminatory tax foreclosures. Previously, Shankar worked to secure a nationwide class action settlement requiring the United States Postal Service to provide reasonable accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing employees. In recognition of his commitment to pro bono work, Shankar was honored by Covington in 2017 as the senior Charles F.C. Ruff Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year, and by APABA-DC at its 2019 Annual Awards & Installation Gala as the recipient of our Community Appreciation Award.

Shankar serves on the Boards of Directors of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Neighborhood Legal Services Program. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Civil Rights - Civil Liberties Law Review.

  • Terry Ao Minnis, senior director of the census and voting programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. Terry co-chairs the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights' Census Task Force and sat on the U.S Department of Commerce's 2010 Census Advisory Committee from 2002 through 2011, when the committee's charter ran out. She has published several articles, including "When the Voting Rights Act Became Un-American: The Misguided Vilification of Section 203" (Alabama Law Review). Terry has been counsel on numerous amicus briefs filed before the Supreme Court, including Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Arizona v. The InterTribal Council of Arizona, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, and Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. She was also counsel on a joint amicus brief with MALDEF in Bartlett vs. Strickland. She was one of the key leaders in campaigns on reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and Census 2010 and is actively engaged in addressing the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

Terry holds a law degree, cum laude, from American University's Washington College of Law and a bachelor's degree in economics at The University of Chicago.

Special thanks to Covington & Burling LLP for hosting this event and to our co-sponsors, the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the South Asian Bar Association of Washington, DC, and the Washington Bar Association.

Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Time: 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The discussion will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Place: Covington & Burling LLP, 850 10th St NW, Washington, D.C.

Light appetizers and refreshments will be provided. and please contact Lloyd Liu or Yifang Zhao at with any questions.

APABA-DC is an affiliate of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association


P.O. Box 27223

Washington, DC 20038

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