Constitutional Law

Judge allows lawsuit claim that US added citizenship question to census for discriminatory reasons

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Maria Dryfhout/

A federal judge in Manhattan ruled Thursday that the Constitution’s enumeration clause gives the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross the authority to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but there could be an equal protection violation if the decision is motivated by discriminatory reasons.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman refused to dismiss two lawsuits seeking to block the question, saying the plaintiffs had made plausible arguments about the motivation of Secretary Ross, report the Washington Post, Courthouse News Service, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

One lawsuit was filed by 18 states and several cities. The other was filed by five advocacy groups.

Ross has said the citizenship question will help identify voting rights violations. The plaintiffs said that adding the question would reduce the headcount because immigrants would refuse to participate, reducing federal funding when there is an undercount.

Furman disagreed with plaintiffs’ claim that Ross had violated the constitutional requirement for an “actual enumeration.” There is no ban on gathering additional information on the census, Furman said. He also noted that the question had been a subject of the census for most of the last 200 years.

But Furman refused to toss the equal protection claim. Furman said there were indications that President Donald Trump had been involved in the decision, and that helped nudge claims of intentional discrimination “across the line from conceivable to plausible.”

Furman said Trump had made statements that could be construed as revealing a general animus against immigrants of color. Those statements include Trump’s assertion that some people trying to enter the United States are “animals, his reference to people from “shithole countries” coming to the United States, and his remark that some immigrants “turn out to be horrendous.”

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