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Judge Blocks Trump Plan to Add Citizenship Question to Census, Citing “Smorgasbord” of Broken Rules

StoryJanuary 16, 2019
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A federal judge in New York City has ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to put a citizenship question on the census. In a lengthy opinion, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman wrote that in deciding to add a citizenship question to the census, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated a “veritable smorgasbord” of federal rules and “alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him.” Ross announced the citizenship question in March, touting it as a way to enforce the Voting Rights Act and protect minorities against voter discrimination. Voting rights activists feared the question would deter immigrants from participating in the census, leading to a vast undercount in states with large immigrant communities. That could impact everything from the redrawing of congressional maps to the allocation of federal funding. We speak with David Cole, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the addition of the citizenship question.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to the latest news of a federal judge in New York City barring the Trump administration Tuesday from placing a citizenship question on the 2020 census, setting up a likely battle over the issue at the Supreme Court. Voting rights activists saying the citizenship question is aimed at deterring immigrants from participating in the census, leading to a vast undercount in states with large immigrant communities, impacting everything from the redrawing of congressional maps to the allocation of federal funding. David Cole, the ACLU brought this case.

DAVID COLE: Yeah, we brought this case because it was clear to us that what Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, who made this decision, wanted to do was to undercount those parts of the country where there are significant immigrant populations, which happen to be overwhelmingly Hispanic, which happen to be overwhelmingly urban, which happen to be largely Democratic. And he sought to do it by putting a citizenship question on the census, notwithstanding the fact that for the last 70 years the Census Bureau has been unanimous that it is a disaster to put such a question on the census, because it deters people from answering the census altogether.

AMY GOODMAN: And he lied about putting it on?

DAVID COLE: And knowing that that was not a permissible reason to do it, he concocted a false reason. That is, that the Department of Justice needed this information to enforce the Voting Rights Act. The notion that this Justice Department is interested in enforcing the Voting Rights Act is a joke, to begin with. But, secondly, the Justice Department has never sought this information to enforce the Voting Rights Act, under any administration.

But he finally prevailed upon Jeff Sessions—personal call to Jeff Sessions—to get the DOJ to write a letter in which they appeared to be asking for what Wilbur Ross in fact initiated. And then he concocted a record that sought to conceal that.

And so, yesterday, a federal judge here in New York issued a 277-page opinion, after a 3-week trial, finding a veritable cornucopia of legal violations by Wilbur Ross and the Commerce Department in seeking to conceal the real reason why they’re trying to distort the census.

AMY GOODMAN: And clearly, this will go to the Supreme Court, the Kavanaugh Supreme Court. How do you think they will rule?

DAVID COLE: Well, I think, you know, you’ve got a very extensive set of factual findings by this district court, 277 pages. He’s the one who heard the testimony. That makes it much more difficult for the court to overturn it. But also, at the end of the day, this is about democracy. Democracy turns on knowing who lives where, so that we know who should be representing them. And so, I think every member of the court ought to be interested in an accurate census.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank David Cole of the ACLU and Kristen Clarke of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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