Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had the authority to reintroduce the citizenship question on the 2020 census but, in exercising that authority, may have violated the rights of plaintiffs who are now suing, a federal judge ruled Thursday. U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman for the Southern District of New York rejected the government’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, which is challenging the Trump administration’s decision to add the question to the census. Furman stated that the plaintiffs “plausibly allege that Secretary Ross’ decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census was motivated by discriminatory animus and that its application will result in a discriminatory effect.”
Seventeen 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.
Effectively, Furman ruled, Ross had the power to add the question but Furman’s allowing the plaintiffs to question the purpose behind the decision.
“The citizenship question is permissible — but by no means mandated — exercise of the broad power granted to Congress and, in turn, the secretary pursuant to the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution,” Furman wrote in his decision.