Nick Brown and Jonathan Stempel, Reuters, January 15, 2019
A federal judge on Tuesday rejected the Trump administration’s plan to add a U.S. citizenship question to the 2020 census, the first ruling in a handful of lawsuits nationwide that claim the question will hurt immigrants.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan said U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross concealed his true motives in adding the question last March, ostensibly to help the government enforce the federal Voting Rights Act. Only American citizens can legally vote in federal elections.
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. Congress, as well as their share of some $800 billion a year in federal funding.
The plaintiffs alleged that was Ross’ plan all along, while Ross insisted the government needed citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act’s protections against voter discrimination.
Ross said he proposed adding the question at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice, but evidence at trial showed he considered the issue well before that request.
During a two-week trial in November, lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice argued that Ross need not reveal every motivating factor, as long as his stated rationale — to enforce the Voting Rights Act — was sound.
They also said he was under no obligation to heed the advice of experts. Ross “doesn’t have to choose the best option” as long as he considers all evidence in good faith, Justice Department lawyer Brett Shumate said during trial.
But Furman said Ross and his aides behaved “like people with something to hide,” leading to the “inescapable” conclusion that they “did have something to hide.”
The citizenship question has mobilized immigration advocates, some of whom rallied outside the New York trial with signs proclaiming “No Human Being is Illegal.”
Democratic federal lawmakers have said they plan to use their newfound majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to investigate the question.