Two Federal Judges Bar Citizenship Question on Census

July 17, 2019 Updated: July 18, 2019

Two federal judges have permanently enjoined the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, even as the administration denies it still plans to move forward with including the question on the census form.

President Donald Trump was initially defiant after the Supreme Court ruled June 27 in Department of Commerce v. New York that the citizenship question couldn’t be included in the once-a-decade census.

“Seems totally ridiculous that our government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census, in this case for 2020,” he tweeted. Trump said at the time he would ask lawyers to delay the census to give the Supreme Court additional information that might change its decision.

In a complex, fractured ruling, the Supreme Court left open the possibility in its opinion that the citizenship question could ultimately be included in the once-a-decade census if a proper justification existed.

Backed by the four liberal justices, Chief Justice John Roberts rejected Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s claim that the citizenship question was needed to gather data to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, writing the rationale “seems to have been contrived.”

In the days after his Twitter statement, Trump said he would find a way to get the citizenship question on the census, perhaps by executive action. After a few more days, Trump abandoned the idea. Last week, the president said he will obtain citizenship information from federal agencies that already collect it.

But in ongoing litigation on July 16, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in New York signed an order blocking the citizenship question at the behest of the American Civil Liberties Union and other parties to a lawsuit. Plaintiffs have asked for additional discovery and for sanctions against government officials if they are determined to have provided false evidence regarding why the question was to be added to the census.

Furman’s order prevents administration officials “from including a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire; from delaying the process of printing the 2020 decennial census questionnaire after June 30, 2019, for the purpose of including a citizenship question; and from asking persons about citizenship status on the 2020 census questionnaire or otherwise asking a citizenship question as part of the 2020 decennial census.”

Furman previously found the administration had been acting in bad faith and ruled Ross and other federal officials may be deposed by lawyers for New York state. The administration beat back demands that Ross testify in the New York proceeding. In October, the Supreme Court blocked the planned deposition of Ross but not of other federal officials.

The U.S. Department of Justice reportedly didn’t oppose the new order.

The next day, July 17, U.S. District Judge George Hazel in Maryland, like Furman an Obama appointee, signed a similar order in a separate lawsuit.

Democrats claim the Trump administration wanted to include the citizenship question to intimidate minorities and discourage participation in the census, a claim the administration vigorously denies.

The census counts both legal and illegal residents of the United States, and is important because the results are used to allocate federal dollars and determine representation in Congress.