A US federal judge on Tuesday said the Trump administration cannot add a question about citizenship in the 2020 census — a victory for liberals and rights groups, though the matter is expected to end up in the Supreme Court.
Several US states and cities, and civil rights groups, have filed seven complaints opposing the move, calling it an effort by the administration of President Donald Trump to scare immigrants into not responding.
If non-citizens avoid census takers for fear of running afoul of immigration authorities, the states where they live could lose federal funding — and possibly seats in Congress.
The ruling by federal District Judge Jesse Furman was the first ruling in those cases.
The judge said that Ross, whose department oversees the national census, “failed to consider several important aspects of the problem.”
Ross “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,” the ruling said.
A “disappointed” Justice Department voiced dismay, saying Ross had “reasonably decided to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census” in order to collect more accurate data.
A citizenship question has not been part of the census — which is carried out once each decade — for 60 years.
Census results determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives, and how more than $675 billion in federal funds will be allocated to states.
There are an estimated 10.7 million undocumented people living in the United States. The country as a whole has more than 330 million people.
Since most non-citizens reside in states with Democratic majorities, opponents of the citizenship question say the Trump administration is trying to curtail Democratic representation in Congress
The American Civil Liberties Union, a leading rights group that had joined the New York complaint, called the decision a “forceful rebuke of the administration’s attempts to weaponize the census to attack immigrants and communities of colour.”
However, Furman said the government could conduct “tests” on adding the citizenship question, and noted that the Supreme Court could disagree with his ruling and ultimately allow the question to on the census.
A government appeal is seen as likely.