Census Citizenship Question Lawsuit To Be Determined By Supreme Court

Wilbur Ross
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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments to determine what evidence may be considered in the pending lawsuit over the citizenship questions on the upcoming U.S. census, including whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross may be deposed in the case, according to NPR.

After the Trump administration added a series of citizenship questions to the 2020 census, more than two dozen states, cities, and groups sued to have them removed. According to an earlier NPR report, the controversial census questions include:

  • If the respondent is a citizen of the United States.
  • A question about whether the person is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.
  • Questions about racial origins of black and white respondents.
  • Questions asking for specific Asian and Pacific Islander origins.
  • A question distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex marriages.

A hearing over the evidence that may be included in the trial was set for February 19th. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the arguments will likely delay preparations for the constitutionally-mandated 2020 census.

The citizenship question was added to the census by Ross in March. As the Secretary of Commerce, Ross is responsible for oversight of the Census Bureau. Ross claims that the Justice Department wants the question to help them enforce the Voting Rights Act, but his opponents argue that it will skew the census as households with non-citizens may withhold information or not answer the census at all.

The dispute over evidence stems from the two lead lawsuits in the case in New York. A judge in those cases ordered the Trump administration to release internal documents about Ross’s decision beyond the e-mails and memos that were initially filed. Judge Jesse Furman also ordered senior officials in the Census Bureau and Commerce Department to be deposed, and in September ordered Ross to sit for questioning under oath, citing that Ross’s “intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases.”

Furman’s opinion and order on the case says, “The Court found reason to believe that Secretary Ross had provided false explanations of his reasons for, and the genesis of, the citizenship question.” Furman also criticized Ross last week, noting that he was “a little surprised to see” that Ross gave an interview to Yahoo Finance this week about the citizenship question “given that he didn’t have time” for a deposition.

Justice Department attorneys representing the Trump administration have argued that the plaintiffs should not be allowed to question Ross’s mental processes, but must rather make their case on the documents provided. Closing arguments for the New York cases are set for November 27th, while the sister trials in California and Maryland are set to begin in January. It is expected that the final rulings for all of these cases will be appealed to the Supreme Court.