Judge to reconsider whether discrimination behind Trump census citizenship question

A federal judge on Wednesday said he would reconsider whether there was a discriminatory intent behind the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

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Judge George Hazel, an Obama appointee, had previously ruled against the question, finding that officials acted arbitrarily and capriciously in adding it to the 2020 census, violating federal law.

He said in the initial ruling in April that there was not enough evidence to determine whether officials had intended to discriminate against minority Americans.

But Hazel on Wednesday ruled in favor of advocacy groups’ request to reexamine a potential discriminatory intent in adding the question after the groups filed new evidence in the case.

He wrote in a brief order that the groups have raised “a substantial issue” in the case. Hazel indicated in the order that an opinion further explaining his reasoning would be released shortly.

The ruling is a significant blow to the Trump administration and could add another hurdle as officials rush to make sure the question is included on the 2020 census. Officials have said they need to start printing census materials by July 1 in order to get the survey out in time.

The documents recently filed in the case indicate that a Census Bureau staffer was in touch with a GOP redistricting strategist about the question's potential addition to the 2020 census.
The emails suggest that Christa Jones, who is now the chief of staff to the director of the Census Bureau, was in contact with the late GOP redistricting strategist Thomas Hofeller in 2015.

“The newly discovered evidence reveals that the citizenship question was motivated by a desire to dilute Hispanic representation to the advantage of Republicans and non-Hispanic whites, and establishes that the Secretary, his advisors, and DOJ officials conspired with a prominent Republican redistricting strategist to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census for that racially discriminatory purpose,” the groups argued in a filing to the judge.

But the Justice Department refuted the argument in court filings, calling it a “bizarre claim” and noting that Jones had sent the email to the strategist in 2015, during the Obama administration.

Hazel held a hearing Tuesday to hear arguments on whether he should reconsider the claims.

This lawsuit is separate but related to the census citizenship question case before the Supreme Court.

The justices heard oral arguments opposing the question from New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the House earlier this year. And while the liberal justices seemed wary of the question, the court’s conservative majority signaled a willingness to allow it to be included on the census.

But the ACLU has now asked the Supreme Court to allow new evidence that it similarly filed last month indicating that Hofeller — the same strategist who was purportedly in contact with Jones — played a previously undisclosed role in developing the citizenship question.