Federal Judge Blasts Trump Administration’s “Frivolous” Attempt to Thwart Census Lawsuit

A federal court has ordered top officials, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, to testify under oath.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies about the 2020 census on Capitol Hill on October 12, 2017. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

On Sunday, a federal judge blasted the Trump administration’s attempt to block key depositions in a case challenging a controversial question about US citizenship on the 2020 census, calling the request “frivolous—if not outrageous.”

Jesse Furman, a judge on a federal district court in New York, has ordered top administration officials, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Gore, to sit for depositions as part of a lawsuit against the administration filed by New York and 16 other states challenging the citizenship question. The Trump administration plans to appeal those orders to the Supreme Court, and asked Furman to halt all depositions in the case “pending Supreme Court review.” 

The depositions of Ross and Gore, in particular, could provide key insight into why the administration added a citizenship question to the census for the first time since 1950. Civil rights groups have strongly criticized the move, arguing it will make immigrants afraid to respond to the census, which will lead to undercounting of immigrants and reduced political power and resources for the areas where they live. Ross testified before Congress that the push for the citizenship question was “initiated” by the Justice Department, but internal documents released as part of the lawsuit show Ross aggressively lobbied the DOJ to request the question. The department eventually wrote a letter to the Census Bureau in December 2017, drafted by Gore, saying the question was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act—even though President Donald Trump’s DOJ hasn’t filed a single lawsuit to enforce the Voting Rights Act and the question has not been on the census since the act was passed in 1965. Furman wrote that Ross must sit for a deposition under oath because “his intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases.”

Six major lawsuits, including the one from New York and 16 other states, are currently challenging the citizenship question. The first trial begins in New York City on November 5, one day before the midterm elections.  

The census determines how $675 billion in federal funding is allocated, how much representation states receive, and how political districts are drawn.