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Judge blocks Trump admin from adding citizenship question to Census

The Trump administration announced in March 2018 that that the 2020 Census would include a question about citizenship status, and as regular readers know, the move immediately drew swift condemnations. The criticisms were rooted in fact: the question is likely to discourage immigrants’ participation in the census, which would mean under-represented communities in the official count, affecting everything from political power to public investments.

More than a few White House critics accused the Republican administration of trying to “sabotage” the national count.

As of this morning, those same critics have reason to be pleased.

A federal judge in New York has barred the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said Tuesday that while such a question would be constitutional, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had added it arbitrarily and not followed proper procedure.

The ruling came in a case in which a dozen states or big cities and immigrants’ rights groups argued that adding the question might frighten immigrant households away from participating in the census.

As satisfying as Furman’s 277-page ruling is, it should probably be seen as the first round of a multi-round fight. There are multiple concurrent cases challenging the administration’s efforts, and the U.S. Supreme Court will almost certainly weigh in before Census materials are printed this summer.

But in the meantime, there’s one angle to this that worth re-emphasizing: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross playing fast and loose with the truth about how the Census change was made.

Let’s back up and review the trajectory of one relevant angle. Once the legal challenge to the Census policy got underway, the administration disclosed some pretty interesting emails. In May 2017, for example, Steve Bannon asked Wilbur Ross to “talk to someone about the census.” Soon after, the Commerce secretary started demanding that his team include the controversial question.

And while that’s notable in its own right, it’s especially important because Ross may have lied to Congress about the series of events. In March 2018, the Commerce secretary testified under oath to the U.S. House that it was the Justice Department that had initiated the request for the question.

In fact, when pressed specifically on whether he’d discussed the citizenship question with anyone in the Trump White House, Ross said, “I am not aware of any such.”

We now know that the cabinet secretary’s under-oath answers were, at a minimum, inaccurate.

It was several months later when Ross’ memory was jogged: he conceded in October 2018 that he had, in fact, spoken with former White House adviser Steve Bannon and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions about adding the citizenship question.

TPM’s report on this morning’s ruling added that the judge in the case “based the decision on an official record produced by the administration that showed that the Census Bureau had repeatedly advised Ross against adding that question and that the administration’s official reason for adding the question – for Voting Rights Act enforcement – could be achieved in a less costly, less harmful way.”