A federal judge on Tuesday invalidated the Trump administration’s addition of a U.S. citizenship question to the 2020 census, the first ruling in a handful of lawsuits that claim the query will hurt immigrants, Reuters informs.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross concealed his true motives in adding the question last March. According to Ross, the question – which has not appeared on the decennial census since 1950 – was necessary to enforce federal laws protecting eligible voters.
Furman’s decision will almost certainly be appealed, and could wind up before the Supreme Court this year. The plaintiffs – 18 U.S. states, 15 cities and various civil rights groups – said that asking census respondents whether they are U.S. citizens will frighten immigrants and Latinos into abstaining from the count.
That could cost their mostly Democratic-leaning communities representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as their share of some $800 billion a year in federal funding.
The plaintiffs alleged that was Ross’ plan all along, while he insisted the government needed citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects eligible voters from discrimination. Only American citizens can vote in federal elections.
Dale Ho, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the plaintiffs’ case, called Furman’s ruling “a forceful rebuke of the Trump administration’s attempt to weaponize the census.”
Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the administration was “disappointed,” adding that the “government is legally entitled to include a citizenship question on the census, and people in the United States have a legal obligation to answer.”
In a 277-page opinion, Furman called Ross’ Voting Rights Act rationale “pretextual.” “He announced his decision in a manner that concealed its true basis rather than explaining it,” Furman noted.
Ross said he added the question at the request of the Justice Department, but evidence at trial showed he independently pushed for it much earlier. He also chose not to heed recommendations from experts – including from within the Census Bureau itself – who said adding the question would lead to an undercount and hurt data quality.