Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, approved a citizenship question in March. It was the first time such a question had been on the census survey since 1950. The department’s release argued that the question was necessary “more effective enforcement” of the Voting Rights Act.
Ross testified before Congress that he approved the question following a December 2017 request from the Justice Department.
Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York, said the Trump administration “deviated from standard operating procedure” by adding the question with no testing. Furman ruled that the plaintiffs challenging the question, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the state of New York, can depose senior officials from the Commerce Department and Justice Department as the case moves forward. Civil rights groups argue that say the citizenship question will reduce response rates from immigrants, imperil the overall accuracy of the census, and could potentially shift political power and resources to areas with fewer immigrants.
Judge Furman cited a memo filed by Wilbur Ross in June which indicated that he was contemplating adding such a question to the survey since February 2017, and that he was the one who suggested its addition to the Justice Department — not the other way around. Furman called out Ross’ lie and was dubious about the rationale that it would strengthen the VRA.
In May, the Justice Department asked Furman to throw out the lawsuit. The judge did not exactly rule on that matter on Tuesday, but he hinted y that he would allow the case to proceed. He ordered the Commerce Department to produce any missing documents by July 23, with hopes that a trial will begin by the end of October.
In the meantime, of course, the state of New York and the ACLU can depose senior officials from the Commerce Department and Justice Department, which is a major victory.