U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman has ordered the Trump administration to halt plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The ruling is a win for critics who say the question is unnecessary and intrusive; U.S. households have not been asked about citizenship status since 1950.
The plaintiffs in the suit argued that the citizenship question was a calculated move by the Trump administration to drive down the response rate from immigrant groups and minorities.
Furman said the question violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), a law which requires agencies to study an issue before implementing it or changing prior policies. Furman said the Trump administration failed in this regard, adding that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, provided "pretextual" reasoning for the move:
“Most blatantly, Secretary Ross ignored, and violated, a statute that requires him, in circumstances like those here, to collect data through the acquisition and use of ‘administrative records’ instead of through ‘direct inquiries’ on a survey such as the census.
Additionally, Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question was ‘arbitrary and capricious’ on its own terms: He failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices ― a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut APA violations."
Furman's ruling was praised by Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, which represented some of the plaintiffs at trial.
In a statement, he said:
“This ruling is a forceful rebuke of the Trump administration’s attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities. The evidence at trial, including from the government’s own witness, exposed how adding a citizenship question would wreck the once-in-a-decade count of the nation’s population. The inevitable result would have been — and the administration’s clear intent was — to strip federal resources and political representation from those needing it most.”
The Trump administration is expected to appeal the decision, but that didn't stop people from savoring the victory.
Among those who disagreed with the ruling was Pete Hegseth, a weekend co-host on "Fox and Friends," long considered the president's favorite television program. Hegseth said the decision came from a "rogue" judge and that the ruling "will be––and should be––appealed to the Supreme Court."
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs also weighed in, saying the decision came from an "Obama Appointed Federal judge."
The ruling is significant, as Buzzfeed reporter Zoe Tillman notes, because although numerous district court judges "have ruled against the Trump administration in litigation over the citizenship question," this was the first trial, marking "the first final order from a judge blocking the addition of the question of the 2020 Census."
Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokeswoman, released a statement saying the Trump administration was within its legal right to ask the citizenship question:
“We are disappointed and are still reviewing the ruling. Secretary Ross, the only person with legal authority over the census, reasonably decided to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census in response to the Department of Justice’s request for better citizenship data, to protect voters against racial discrimination. Not only has the government asked a citizenship question in the census for most of the last 200 years, 41 million households have already answered it on the American Community Survey since 2005. Our government is legally entitled to include a citizenship question on the census and people in the United States have a legal obligation to answer. Reinstating the citizenship question ultimately protects the right to vote and helps ensure free and fair elections for all Americans.”
President Donald Trump has not yet commented on the ruling.