The ACLU went to court late Friday to ask a federal judge to put an end to President Trump’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the census, saying the government was poised to illegally break its own self-imposed deadlines.
In a filing with Judge Jesse Furman, the American Civil Liberties Union said for the last year all sides had been operating under the assumption that the Census Bureau’s June 30 deadline for finalizing the 2020 questionnaire was firm.
Now, the government is suggesting it may not be.
But the ACLU said giving Mr. Trump a chance to extend the case would be unfair at this point, and it asked Judge Furman to step in and issue an order forbidding the question, now that June 30 has passed.
“Defendants’ efforts to prolong uncertainty and drag out this matter are sowing confusion and exacerbating fear among immigrant communities, and directly injuring the plaintiffs’ efforts to mobilize participation in the census,” the ACLU said.
The new filing is just the latest twist in Mr. Trump’s determination to ask about citizenship.
The Supreme Court last week seemed to derail the effort with a 5-4 ruling that said while a citizenship question is legal, and has been asked before, this administration bungled the effort and gave a “contrived” explanation for why it wanted to add the question in to next year’s count.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts sent the issue back to the Commerce Department, saying it could try again. But the ruling came just days before the department’s own self-imposed deadline for finalizing questions.
Administration officials seemed to capitulate this week, announcing they were printing the questionnaires without the citizenship question.
But Mr. Trump appears not to have been consulted.
He took to Twitter to order the Justice and Commerce departments to try again. On Friday he said he’s also considering an executive order to try to force the question — though it’s not clear what such an order would look like.
Whatever his next steps, the ACLU’s request makes clear he’ll face more legal blockades.
“The Trump administration repeatedly argued the census forms could not be altered after June 30. They’ve now changed their tune because the Supreme Court ruled against them,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project. “They can’t have it both ways. Trump’s lawlessness will not go unanswered.”
The ACLU’s filing came just hours after another federal court in Maryland expressed skepticism about the administration’s last-minute attempt to shoehorn the question back in to the 2020 count.
Judge George J. Hazel allowed immigrant-rights groups to pursue legal discovery to pry into the administration’s decision-making for why it wanted the question added in the first place.
Both Judge Furman and Judge Hazel are Obama appointees to the bench.