By Stephen Rex Brown
It's plausible that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was "motivated by discriminatory animus" when he added a question regarding citizenship status to the 2020 census, a judge wrote Thursday, allowing a lawsuit over the question to proceed.
A coalition of states and advocacy groups have sued over the question, which they say will create fear in immigrant communities and lead to an inaccurate population count. In a 70-page decision, Judge Jesse Furman denied the Trump administration's bid to have the suit tossed.
"They plausibly allege that Secretary Ross's decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census was motivated by discriminatory animus and that its application will result in a discriminatory effect," Furman wrote.
The judge's conclusion was backed up by Trump's notorious "shithole countries" remark, as well as contradictory statements by Ross and others regarding when and why the question was accepted for the census.
Furman signaled how he would rule in a hearing earlier this month, saying that he saw signs of "bad faith" behind the citizenship question.
The Trump administration had argued that the court lacked jurisdiction over the states' claims and should defer to the Commerce Secretary's ability to make policy. But Furman wrote that argument didn't hold up.
"Courts have a critical role to play in reviewing the conduct of the political branches to ensure that the census is conducted in a manner consistent with the Constitution," he wrote.
A Commerce Department spokesman emphasized that Furman's decision did recognize Ross' broad authority, as well as previous censuses that did include the citizenship question.
"The Department of Commerce is pleased the court found that Secretary Ross has broad authority over the Census. We are confident that this includes the authority to reinstate a citizenship question and that Plaintiffs' remaining claims will be dismissed after discovery shows that the Secretary lawfully exercised his discretion to do so. The Secretary's and the Census Bureau's priority remains conducting a complete and accurate 2020 Census," the spokesman said.
State Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who is leading the coalition of states, said the next step in the suit was an examination of internal Commerce Department documents showing Ross' decision-making process.
"Today's decision is a big win for New Yorkers and everyone across the country who cares about a fair and accurate Census," Underwood said.
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