(NEW YORK) — The Trump administration cannot ask a question about citizenship status in the 2020 census, a federal judge in New York ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman concluded that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had violated the public trust in his decision to include a citizenship question on the next census, calling Ross’s decision “arbitrary and capricious.”
More than a dozen states, six cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and several immigrant rights advocacy groups claimed in a lawsuit filed in April that asking citizenship status as part of the census is unlawful and could undercount populations, thereby threatening billions in federal funds which relies on accurate population counts.
A separate suit on the same issue was filed by the state of California and is currently being heard in San Francisco. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on the issue on Feb. 19.
In his 277-page decision, Furman wrote that such a question would be constitutional, but that Ross had not followed proper procedures when he decided to add it.
“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,” Furman wrote.
On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James praised Furrman’s decision in a statement.
“Today’s ruling is a win for New Yorkers and Americans across the country who believe in a fair and accurate count of the residents of our nation. The attempts by the Trump Administration to mandate a question about citizenship were not rooted in a desire to strengthen the census process and would only undermine our immigrant communities. Inciting fear in our residents is not only immoral but also ill-conceived,” James wrote.
The last time the census asked respondents about their citizenship status was in 1950. Since then, the U.S. Census Bureau and former Bureau officials have opposed periodic efforts to reinstate a citizenship question on a universal basis.
In March, Ross directed the Census Bureau to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census. He said he included it to fulfill a request letter from the U.S. Justice Department, which argued it needed better citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
President Donald Trump took credit for this direction shortly after the announcement in an email his campaign sent to supporters: “President Trump has officially mandated that the 2020 United States Census ask people living in America whether or not they are citizens.”
But in July, Furman questioned that rationale and ruled that the lawsuit could proceed.
“There is no indication in the record that the Department of Justice and civil rights groups have ever, in the 53 years since the Voting Rights Act was enacted, suggested that citizenship data collected as part of the decennial census would be helpful, let alone necessary, to litigate such claims,” Furman wrote in his decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed at the time.
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