Judge delays decision in census citizenship case after hearing evidence of GOP scheme

"There is no smoking gun here, only smoke and mirrors," lawyers for the Justice Department said.
Demonstrators rally at the U.S. Supreme Court
Demonstrators rally at the U.S. Supreme Court on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Dartunorro Clark and Adam Reiss

A federal judge on Wednesday postponed a ruling on whether the Trump administration hid the involvement of a dead GOP operative who had been pushing to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census because it would create an advantage for Republicans.

U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Furman said he was putting off any decision because he did not want to rush the process before the Supreme Court rules on the citizenship question.

"There's no apparent urgency to resolve applications before me, no reason to rush the process before the Supreme Court makes its decision, this could easily be handled after their decision, and I don't want to do anything to cross the line," Furman said.

In a packed Manhattan federal courtroom, attorneys for the New York Immigration Coalition were looking to impose sanctions against the Justice Department for withholding evidence and making false statements.

The evidence refers to court filings released last week that suggested the idea for adding the citizenship question may have originated with Thomas Hofeller, a Republican redistricting specialist, who wrote in letters and memos that the question would create an electoral advantage for "Republicans and non-Hispanic whites."

In a brief filed before the hearing, the Justice Department said that Hofeller had no role in its request to the Commerce Department in December 2017. "There is no smoking gun here, only smoke and mirrors," the department said. According to several reports, Hofeller urged President Donald Trump's transition team to include the citizenship question on its list of priorities for the new president.

John Freedman, representing the New York Immigration Coalition, told the judge that they are looking for sanctions and to determine whether Commerce officials had access to Hofeller's analysis.

In January, Furman blocked the Trump administration from asking about citizenship status on the 2020 census, saying that while such a question would be constitutional, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had added it arbitrarily and did not follow proper administrative procedures.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision regarding the legality of adding the citizenship question to the census before the end of June so that the government can meet its printing deadline.

Furman set a July 12th deadline for the plaintiffs to file a motion to lay out the evidence. A reply from the government is expected Aug. 2nd.