- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2019

A federal judge signaled skepticism Friday of any new effort to add a citizenship question back into the 2020 census, and approved Trump opponents’ plans to pry into the decision-making that led to the question in the first place.

In a brief order, Judge George J. Hazel gave the OK to legal discovery by a host of immigrant-rights groups who sued to stop the question, saying the questions they’ve raised about motives go to the heart of the case, even if the Trump administration comes up with new reasoning.

It’s the latest twist as President Trump tries to figure out ways to get the question added back in.

SEE ALSO: Trump ‘thinking’ of executive order on census citizenship question

Justice Department lawyers said they are exploring their options, trying to find space to operate between Mr. Trump’s desire for the question and a Supreme Court ruling last month that rebuffed the Commerce Department’s initial attempt.

The high court, in a 5-4 ruling, said that while a citizenship question is legal, and has been asked before, this administration bungled the effort to add it back in for next year’s count, giving a “contrived” explanation.

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.

That deadline passed last weekend and the department said it was going ahead sans the citizenship question. Not so fast, said Mr. Trump, who ordered his lawyers to see if there was a way to still get it done.

“The Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Commerce have been asked to reevaluate all available options following the Supreme Court’s decision and whether the Supreme Court’s decision would allow for a new decision to include the citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census,” the lawyers said in a filing with Judge Hazel on Friday.

“In the event the Commerce Department adopts a new rationale for including the citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census consistent with the decisions of the Supreme Court, the Government will immediately notify this court so that it can determine whether there is any need for further proceedings or relief,” the lawyers said.

Judge Hazel said that was fine, and reminded the government that as of now it’s under a court order not to reinstate the question.

The judge went further, though, and said the immigrant-rights groups can engage in discovery to try to find out whether the administration had improper motives — such as political suppression — when it first added the citizenship question.

The Justice Department had argued that any new decision it makes now would be based on different justifications, and so what happened before wasn’t relevant.

Judge Hazel, an Obama appointee to the bench, rejected that.

“Plaintiffs’ remaining claims are based on the premise that the genesis of the citizenship question was steeped in discriminatory motive,” he wrote. “Regardless of the justification Defendants may now find for a ‘new’ decision, discovery related to the origins of the question will remain relevant.”

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