Judge blocks Trump administration from adding citizenship question to 2020 census

A federal judge ruled against the Trump administration Wednesday, blocking the Commerce Department from adding a question on citizenship to the 2020 U.S. census.

Judge Richard Seeborg for the Northern District of California said Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy Tech gets brief reprieve from Trump's Huawei ban Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group MORE had failed to offer a plausible reason to add a citizenship question to the next census.

"Secretary Ross’s reliance on [Voting Rights Act] enforcement to justify inclusion of the citizenship question was mere pretext and the definition of an arbitrary and capricious governmental act," Seeborg wrote in his ruling.

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"Moreover, Secretary Ross’s conclusion that adding the citizenship question would enable the Census Bureau to obtain more 'complete and accurate data' in response to the [Justice Department's] request is not only unsupported, it is directly contradicted by the scientific analysis contained in the Administrative Record," Seeborg continued.

The administration’s decision, which Ross announced last March, was immediately challenged by a number of states and localities led by California's Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: Trump moves forward with rule on California drilling | House panel advances bill that resumes participation in Paris climate fund | Perry pressed on 'environmental justice' | 2020 Dem proposes climate corps Trump administration moves forward with final rule to allow new California drilling Overnight Energy: Interior chief says climate response falls on Congress | Bernhardt insists officials will complete offshore drilling plans | Judge rules EPA must enforce Obama landfill pollution rules MORE (D), who in the past has said that adding such a question would "derail the integrity of the census" and potentially undercount the population of the U.S.

"It would discourage noncitizens and their citizen family members from responding to the census, resulting in a less accurate population count," Becerra wrote in an op-ed last year.

Becerra celebrated the ruling in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon, stating that it would protect "billions" of dollars in federal funding for California programs.

“Justice has prevailed for each and every Californian who should raise their hands to be counted in the 2020 Census without being discouraged by a citizenship question," Becerra said.

"We celebrate this ruling, an important step in protecting billions of dollars meant for critical services Californians rely on, from education, to public health and safety. And we will ardently defend this important judgment to safeguard fairness in funding and representation for California and its local communities," he added.

The decision is the second blow to the Trump administration's push to include the question, after a New York judge made a similar ruling in January.

The Supreme Court is due to take up the issue in April, after justices agreed to skip the appeals process following the New York decision.

The Department of Commerce argued the question was included in order to aid enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

Seeborg disagreed in his 126-page ruling, which was critical of Ross's attempts to include the question.

Seeborg wrote that Ross attempted to justify the question's inclusion even after being advised by Census Bureau professionals that it would depress participation.

"What ensued was a cynical search to find some reason, any reason, or an agency request to justify that preordained result," wrote Seeborg.