Second federal court strikes citizenship question from 2020 census

A second federal judge on Wednesday blocked a citizenship question from appearing on the 2020 census, writing in his opinion that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had “ignored” federal law when he “insisted upon adding the citizenship question to the census.”

Judge Richard Seeborg in the Northern District of California wrote that the evidence shows the question “quite effective at depressing self-response rates among immigrants and noncitizens, and poses a significant risk of distorting the apportionment of congressional representation among the states.”

Ross had justified the question as necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act and told Congress the question was an idea from the Justice Department. But documents released as a result of the the court challenges have showed former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump adviser Kris Kobach had urged Ross to include the question long before the request from the Justice Department, and that he had discussed the topic with Attorney General Jeff Sessions prior to the Justice Department request.

The judge outright blocked inclusion of the question, denying Ross an opportunity to find another justification or additional evidence to support his arguments.

“Defendants do not get another bite at the apple,” Seeborg wrote.

His ruling aligns with the January decision from a federal judge in New York, which the government has appealed directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the federal appeals court. The high court is expected to hear the case later this spring. The government has said it needs a final ruling by the end of June in order to print forms and design computerized response software.

Closing arguments in the California case were in mid-February, and Seeborg rejected a request from the government that he hold off on ruling until the Supreme Court hears the New York case.

The California case started as two lawsuits, one brought by the state and another by the city of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

Seeborg’s ruling concludes that Ross went beyond his authority to “advocate for different policy directions” when he participated in “an effort to concoct a rationale bearing no plausible relation to the real reason, whatever that may be, underlying the decision.”

A third trial challenging the question concluded in a Maryland courtroom last month, and the judge there said he would issue a ruling soon.