Constitutional Law

Second federal judge blocks census citizenship question in a broader ruling than the first

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A federal judge in San Francisco issued a nationwide injunction Wednesday to bar Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg is the second federal judge to block the question, report Courthouse News Service, the Washington Post and the Associated Press. But Seeborg went further than the first judge when he found that the question violated the enumeration clause requiring a population count every 10 years to determine representation in Congress.

Seeborg also ruled that the government violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the basis for the first ruling by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of Manhattan. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in February to hear an appeal of Furman’s decision and scheduled arguments for April.

Seeborg ruled in two related lawsuits by California, several cities in the state, and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

Ross had said he was adding the citizenship question in response to a request from the Department of Justice for better citizenship data to assist in its enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But Seeborg said the evidence shows the explanation “was mere pretext and the definition of an arbitrary and capricious governmental act.”

Ross first decided to add the question, then began “a cynical search to find some reason, any reason, or an agency request to justify that preordained result,” Seeborg said.

In reality, Seeborg said, the citizenship question would lead to an undercount of immigrant and Latino communities, “compounded by macro-environmental factors arising out of the national immigration debate.”

“While a citizenship question had been included in the decennial census in 1950 and before,” Seebort wrote, “the analysis now must turn on the impact of that question on the prospect of achieving the central constitutional purpose of an actual enumeration in 2020. Viewed through that lens, the inclusion of the question is contrary to the Constitution.”

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