Judge rejects DOJ, orders speedy trial on Census citizenship question
A federal judge Friday said the government was too clever by half in demanding a halt to a planned trial over adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, saying the call for a stay contradicts the Trump administration’s earlier repeated requests for speedy action.
Judge Jesse M. Furman said he’ll move ahead with the trial next week, over the objections of the Justice Department and two Supreme Court justices, who’d rebuked the judge in a ruling earlier this week.
Judge Furman said in any other circumstances he might heed the justices, but he said the Trump administration has made a mess of the arguments at this point, sending mixed signals.
He said he will follow their calls for speed, and go ahead with the trial.
“Defendants’ own ‘urgen[t]’ need for finality calls for sticking with the trial date,” the district court judge, an Obama appointee to the bench, ruled.
The government in the case is defending Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add a question back into the census in 2020 prodding people to say what country they are citizens of. The question had been standard on the full until 1950, and now appears in smaller census surveys but not on the form every household gets every decade.
Mr. Ross’s decision to put it back in the main census, which he originally said he did in part to help the Justice Department judge voting-rights complaints, has been challenged by immigrant-rights advocates who say they fear minorities will refuse to fill out the census now.
They also say Mr. Ross was lying about his reasons for adding the question in.
The case has produced some major legal fireworks.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a speech earlier this month, personally chastised the judge for his ruling, saying he was going to “hold a trial over the inner-workings of a Cabinet secretary’s mind.”
“The words on the page don’t have a motive; they are either permitted or they are not,” Mr. Sessions said.
The Supreme Court earlier this week also weighed in, blocking Judge Furman’s order that Mr. Ross sit for a deposition.
The justices did allow deposition of another government official. But Justices Neil M. Gorsush and Clarence Thomas said they would have put the whole Furman trial on hold, saying they figure the Supreme Court will likely soon weigh in on the whole case.
Judge Furman said in his ruling Friday that he can’t wait on the high court if he’s to make a ruling and allow for full appeals before the 2020 census must be finalized.
He also laid out a rough case against Mr. Ross, saying the evidence shows he appears to have made up his mind even before asking for Justice Department input on the citizenship question; he overruled Census Bureau career staff who opposed the move and deviated from usual processes; and he gave “false explanations” for his decisions.
“If those circumstances, taken together, are not sufficient to make a preliminary finding of bad faith that would warrant extra-record investigation, it is hard to know what circumstances would,” he said.