A federal judge expressed skepticism Tuesday over the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question onto the main 2020 census, saying the states have made a good argument that the federal government acted in “bad faith.”
U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman, an Obama appointee, said Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr.’s initial claim that he added the question at the request of the Justice Department was undercut by his recent admission that he was thinking about it even before then.
He ordered the government to disclose a host of information on its decision making, and signaled he’s “unlikely” to toss the lawsuit, as the Trump administration had asked.
“Today marked a major win in our lawsuit to protect the Census,” said New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood, who is leading the lawsuit — one of a number of challenges to the citizenship question.
Democratic-led states and immigration activists have been fighting vehemently to oust the question, saying they believe it’s being used as a way to scare immigrants away from participating in the census. That, they say, would skew the count and deny states some federal cash that’s doled out on the basis of population.
The Justice Department said it asked for the citizenship question to be added last year in order to get a better sense for demographic breakdowns, saying it needs more exact data to be able to bring voting rights cases.
Mr. Ross for months had said the Justice Department request was the basis for his decision to add the question.
Recently, however, he admitted he’d been considering adding the question even before that. That fed into critics’ complaints that the move is political, rather than an effort to get accurate data.
Even some Census Bureau officials had raised concerns internally that asking about citizenship would skew the count, the plaintiffs say.
Supporters of the question counter that the question was asked on the broad decennial census up until 1950, and since then it has still been part of a number of smaller census surveys, so asking the question isn’t brand new.
Brett Shumate, a deputy assistant attorney general, argued on Tuesday that the plaintiffs were relying on a “speculative chain of inferences” to support the suit’s claim that adding the citizenship question would result in an “undercount” of people, according to The Associated Press. The government has ways to ensure an accurate census, he said.
The commerce secretary “has those procedures in place and plans to count every person in America,” he said.