Judge Orders Admin. To Release More Docs On Census Citizenship Question

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Group

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Trump administration to provide more internal documents detailing its move to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, according to reports from the courtroom.

New York and several other states sued the Commerce Department and Secretary Wilbur Ross in April over the addition of a citizenship question to the census. Critics have argued that, despite Ross’ justification that the question is necessary to more fully enforce the Voting Rights Act, it will have the effect of dramatically depressing immigrants’ census response rate — including the response rate of households that contain both American citizens and undocumented immigrants.

That, in turn, would have a range of implications, including reducing the political representation and federal funding that goes to the largely Democratic-leaning areas where immigrants live.

Judge Jesse Furman’s order Tuesday came in response to a motion from the states to expand discovery in the suit — that is, to make public more internal documents surrounding the decision by the Commerce Department to add the citizenship question.

“Today marked a major win in our lawsuit to protect the Census, with a federal judge ordering the Trump administration to provide vital information on how the decision to demand citizenship status was made, and what it may mean for New Yorkers and Americans across the country,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement Tuesday.

According to NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang, who was in attendance Tuesday, Furman said it was “inconceivable” that more documents shouldn’t be added to the record. Per Wang, Furman also said the Trump administration had “deviated from standard operating procedure” by adding the citizenship question without considering its potential effects.

Ross in March said the Justice Department “initiated the request” to add the citizenship question.

But documents released last month as part of the states’ suit showed there was much more to the story: In 2017, emails showed, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach urged Ross to add the question. He also contradicted Ross’ public justification by saying that the census lacking a citizenship question “leads to the problem that aliens who do not actually ‘reside’ in the United States are still counted for congressional apportionment purposes.”

“It now appears those statements were potentially untrue,” Furman said Tuesday of Ross’ public justifications, according to Courthouse News Service’s Adam Klasfeld.

Furman said, per Klasfeld, that the states had made a “strong showing of a claim of bad faith.”

Kobach also said in the previously released emails that he was contacting Ross “at the direction of Steve Bannon,” indicating the White House’s direct involvement in the citizenship question.

In addition to the additional documents to be released, Furman specifically ordered, according to the courthouse reports, that the Trump administration provide a log of documents over which it was claiming privilege, and that the states be allowed to conduct 10 shared fact depositions. The documents are due July 23.

Furman also considered, but did not rule on, a motion from the Trump administration to dismiss the suit. The judge called that “unlikely,” according to reports.

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