By Corinne Ramey
A federal judge in New York blocked the Trump administration from asking about citizenship on the 2020 census, saying Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add the question broke the law.
“Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census—even if it did not violate the Constitution itself—was unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons and must be set aside,” wrote U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who had presided over a trial about the question last year.
The decision comes as a result of two lawsuits filed by cities, states and left-leaning advocacy groups. The plaintiffs had argued adding the question ignored the Census Bureau’s own research, would lead to a significant undercount and was motivated by discrimination against immigrants. The lower count could result in fewer congressional seats and billions of dollars in lost federal funding in districts with large numbers of immigrants, they said.
The Trump administration said it had acted lawfully and needs citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act. The government hasn’t asked about the citizenship status of the entire population since the 1950 census.
The ruling is a blow to the Trump administration, whose immigration initiatives have been faulted by federal courts for running afoul of the law. Courts have blocked, at least temporarily, Mr. Trump’s early efforts to stop citizens of several Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S., his attempt to ban asylum claims by people who cross the border illegally, and his bid to cancel a program benefiting undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
In a tweet in November, Mr. Trump said judges shouldn’t legislate security and safety at the border. “They know nothing about it and are making our Country unsafe,” he wrote.
On Tuesday, the plaintiffs hailed Judge Furman’s ruling. “Accurate population counts are imperative for allocating funding for critical programs and support systems and for determining fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office is a plaintiff in the suit.
Dale Ho, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said evidence at trial showed that adding the question would wreck the once-in-a-decade count. “This ruling is a forceful rebuke of the Trump administration’s attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities,” Mr. Ho said.
The Justice Department is disappointed and still reviewing the ruling, a spokeswoman said. “Our government is legally entitled to include a citizenship question on the census and people in the United States have a legal obligation to answer,” she said. “Reinstating the citizenship question ultimately protects the right to vote and helps ensure free and fair elections for all Americans.”
Judge Furman, who was appointed by President Obama, said the plaintiffs had proved they would be harmed by the addition of the citizenship question. He also said Mr. Ross violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies develop regulations.
“He failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices—a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut [Administrative Procedure Act] violations,” the judge wrote in his 277-page ruling.
The judge also said the plaintiffs hadn’t proved Mr. Ross acted with discriminatory intent.
Tuesday’s ruling is the first on the citizenship question, which is the subject of a number of lawsuits currently pending in federal courts across the U.S. Two similar lawsuits, brought by the state of California and several cities and groups, went to trial in federal court in San Francisco last week. Two more lawsuits, brought by a coalition of groups and residents from Maryland and Arizona, are due to go to trial this month in Maryland. A seventh lawsuit was filed in November by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil-liberties nonprofit.
The Justice Department is expected to appeal. The case could potentially be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. An appeal would need to move quickly, as the Census Bureau has indicated it needs to finalize the questionnaire later this year.
The Supreme Court already has played a role in the suit. In recent months it declined to postpone the New York trial, but did temporarily shield Mr. Ross from being questioned under oath in the case.
Although the trial is over, the high court next month is scheduled to consider what types of evidence are fair game for consideration in the litigation. Judge Furman wrote his ruling in a way that may minimize the impact of the Supreme Court’s answer to that question.
The judge said he was able to conclude from the written agency record in the case that Mr. Ross’s decision to add the citizenship question was unlawful. All the additional evidence introduced in the case just further confirmed and illustrated “how egregious” the secretary’s actions were, the judge said.
For more information, go to: http://www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com/