In a legal defeat for the Trump Administration, a federal judge in New York ruled on Tuesday that efforts by the Commerce Department to add a question on U.S. citizenship to the 2020 census was 'unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons' - not because of the substance of the question - but for how officials circumvented normal procedures to approve the query.
In a 277 page decision issued on Tuesday morning, Judge Jesse Furman repeatedly rebuked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, saying his decision to add a question on citizenship was 'arbitrary and capricious.'
"Secretary Ross acted without observing procedures required by law, including a statute requiring that he notify Congress of the subjects planned for any census at least three years in advance," Furman wrote in his ruling, describing Ross's actions as 'egregious,' and some of his explanations as 'materially inaccurate.'
"The Court's Opinion is, to put it mildly, long," the judge acknowledged. "But that is for good reasons," as he ruled that Secretary Ross violated and ignored a series of laws which govern changes to the census questionnaire.
"He failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; 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 — a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut APA violations," the judge wrote.
Ross has so far avoided a court-ordered deposition about his decisions; Democrats in the House have indicated they would still like to question Ross about how the citizenship question was dealt with.
"Putting a citizenship question on the census is a cynical and sinister attempt to suppress participation and undercount immigrants short changing fair apportionment of resources and political representation," said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
The issue of counting everyone - illegal immigrants included - is a sensitive political matter, because the census determines not only the apportionment of Congress, but also the level of aid which can come from the federal government for a variety of federal programs.
"It is important to conduct a census which is comprehensive and accurate," said Rep. Albio Sires (D-NY).
"This citizenship question brings together @realDonaldTrump’s anti-immigrant agenda and his attempts to undermine representative democracy and has no business in the #2020Census," tweeted Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
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