Judge delays action on new claim Trump administration sought 2020 census citizenship question to boost GOP
WASHINGTON – A federal judge in New York refused Wednesday to let a late challenge to the Trump administration's planned 2020 census question on citizenship interfere with the Supreme Court's upcoming decision.
District Judge Jesse Furman's reluctance to weigh in now on new claims that the question is politically motivated clears the way for the justices to render their verdict by the end of June.
Furman labeled as "serious" the challengers' allegation that the move was made to boost Republicans in future elections by limiting the clout of Hispanic voters, as outlined in a 2015 study by a top Republican expert on gerrymandering.
Furman was the first of three federal judges to block the question from being added, based mostly on the theory that administration officials did not follow proper procedures. Chief among them: having a legitimate reason.
The administration's appeal was argued at the Supreme Court last month, and a decision is expected by the end of June. If the justices consider the new information, it could alter their decision or prompt them to ask for new briefs from both sides – even as the Census Bureau says it must begin printing the 2020 questionnaire soon.
Lawyers for the New York Immigration Coalition claimed last week that new evidence showed the administration's motive was to boost the electoral clout of Republicans and "non-Hispanic whites" in congressional elections.
Administration officials have testified that they sought the citizenship question for a completely different reason: to protect minority voters under provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
Justice Department officials told Furman that the latest challenge represented an "eleventh-hour campaign to improperly derail the Supreme Court’s resolution of the government’s appeal."
At the center of the new controversy is a deceased Republican expert on redistricting, Thomas Hofeller, who authored a study showing that allowing only U.S. citizens to vote "would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats" and "would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites."
To achieve that goal, Hofeller recommended to President-elect Donald Trump's transition team that the 2020 census ask about citizenship. But the Justice Department and Commerce Department ultimately claimed the question was intended to protect minority voting rights.
Challengers' attorneys asked Furman to sanction two administration officials who they said misled the judge during a trial about the reasons for the citizenship question.
"Damning new evidence reveals hyper-partisan and racially discriminatory motives at the root of the citizenship question," they wrote. "The Administrative Procedure Act demands that federal agencies explain the real reasons for their actions. It does not permit federal agencies to lie to the public about why they act."
Justice Department officials called the last-minute accusation "a conspiracy theory involving a deceased political operative that essentially hinges on wordplay."
"There is no smoking gun here," they said, "only smoke and mirrors."