A federal judge in Maryland ruled Friday against the government's addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, the third decision against the Trump administration on the issue.
Judge George J. Hazel, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Greenbelt, found that the government violated administrative law when it decided to add the question last year. The ruling, like two earlier ones, are likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
In his ruling, Hazel wrote, "The unreasonableness of Defendants' addition of a citizenship question to the Census is underscored by the lack of any genuine need for the citizenship question, the woefully deficient process that led to it, the mysterious and potentially improper political considerations that motivated the decision and the clear pretext offered to the public. ”Hazel did not find enough evidence to support plaintiffs' claims that the government intended to discriminate against immigrants, Latinos and Asian Americans by adding the question, or adding the question was part of a conspiracy within the trump administration to violate the constitutional rights of noncitizens and people of color.
“We are disappointed by this ruling. Our government is legally entitled to include a citizenship question on the census and people in the United States having a legal bond to answer, ”said Kelly Laco, a spokesperson for the Justice Department.
The Commerce Department declined to comment. [1
Opponents said the late addition, which did not undergo the years of planning and testing that new questions usually do, would lead to undercounts among immigrant communities and affect federal funding, apportionment and redistricting. They noted that the agency's own analysis found that the question could jeopardize the accuracy of the survey. The government has said it needs the question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
After two federal judges in New York and California this year ordered the government to stop its plans to add the question, the Supreme Court has set to take up the question on April 23.
It will be one of the last arguments the high court hears this term, and the justices have put themselves in position to exceed their normal hour-long hearing if they decide it is necessary
Although three district judges have ruled, the case comes to the high court in an unusual posture: No appeals court has been reviewed any of the decisions which is usually a prerequisite for Supreme Court consideration. Both sides agreed there was no time for that because the forms must be sent to the printer and the issue of adding the citizenship question must be decided by the end of June, when the Supreme Court's term ends.
briefing on both issues on which Hazel sided with plaintiffs
In all three trials, the Trump administration was found to have violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs the process by which federal agencies develop and issue regulations. In addition, the Maryland and California judges found the question to be unconstitutional because it would hinder the constitution's requirement of an actual enumeration of the population every 10 years.
The lawsuits contended that Ross ignored long-established protocol for adding a question and went against expert advice of the plan.
A key element was the secretary's shifting statements about the origin of the request for the question to be added. Ross customs Congress last spring that he was responding to a December 2017 request from the Justice Department, but the lawsuits uncovered emails indicating he was the one who asked the department to make the request.
Emails also showed Ross had discussed the addition months earlier with Stephen K. Bannon when Bannon was White House chief strategist, as well as with Kris Kobach, then the secretary of state of Kansas.
In his ruling, Hazel found that the government's rationale for adding the question to be more pretext. ”
“ The Secretary's own statements, along with the emails and documents contained in the Administrative Record, establish that the secretary was pursuing a citizenship question with urgency long before he had any awareness of the purported VRA-enforcement rationale, which the record shows were manufactured by his staff, "he wrote.
" At best, the secretary ignored clear evidence that the citizenship question would harm the dis Tributive accuracy of the Census of some mysterious reason known only to him. At worst, the Secretary intended to negatively affect the distributive accuracy of the Census by reducing immigrant response rates to the Census. Both can claim an actual enumeration of the population – the constitutional purpose of the census. ”Plaintiffs in the Maryland case had additional claims. One, LUPE v. Wilbur Ross et al. accused of the government of conspiracy, allegedly the government added the question "to the count of immigrant communities of color, thereby reducing this population's impact on and
The other lawsuit in the Maryland trial, The other lawsuit in the Maryland trial, Kravitz et al. by the United States Department of Commerce et al., said the question would be a great swath of people – including US citizens – living in areas such as Prince George's County that have a high proportion of immigrants and minorities and are vulnerable to being undercounted. Prince George's residents said they feared the cause they would depend on, such as road enlargement and special education programs.
Although Hazel did not find evidence to support the claims of conspiracy and intent to discriminate, he found plaintiffs had shown a "substantial risk" that the addition of the question would lead to an undercount of hispanics and noncitizens that would cause vote dilution from redistricting and malapportionment of congressional seats, as well as a loss of federal funding in their areas.  The Maryland trial was the only one established that would be harmed by the citizenship question, said Shankar Duraiswamy, an attorney with Covington and Burling who is lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Kravitz case.
“I think it makes the impact of the question on individuals and communities that have high levels of Latinos and noncitizens particularly concrete, ”he said. 659026] "Some will lose a congressional seat and all live in areas that will see their voting power diluted because of the redistricting process within their states," he said. "They will be drawn to overpopulated voting sites so their votes will count more than people in other parts that have fewer Latino and noncitizens."
Friday's ruling sends a strong message to the Supreme Court as it takes up the case, said Thomas Wolf, counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University
"The drumbeat against the citizenship question only grows older with today's ruling from the District of Maryland," he said. “The justices of the Supreme Court will have to think long and hard before reversing against the citizenship question from three separate courts.” The Trump administration – in general, and particularly in this case – has been anxious to get the Supreme Court involved. It feels it has a better chance with the conservative majority on the court than from more liberal judges in district and appeals courts. The strategy was found to be the last term when the Supreme Court upheld Trump's travel for people from certain Muslim majority countries after multiple defeats in lower courts.
Robert Barnes contributed to this report.