Immigrant-rights advocates urged the Supreme Court on Wednesday to delay a ruling on the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, saying new evidence has tainted the government’s case.
The justices heard oral argument earlier this year and are expected to issue a ruling by the end of this month.
But a group of activist organizations that sued to block the question said the new evidence is so explosive that it must require a do-over at the lower courts.
The evidence includes documents from a now-deceased GOP consultant who the activists say ghost-wrote the justification documents the administration relied on to add the citizenship question. That consultant, Thomas Hofeller, has also written about the use of the citizenship question in helping Republicans draw districts to maximize their political power.
The government says it wasn’t aware of Hofeller’s work and it was not essential to the decision-making.
A lower court judge last week, who had previously ruled the 2020 citizenship question illegal, was skeptical of the government’s argument.
The activists, in a brief with the Supreme Court late Wednesday, said the justices should let that play out before issuing a ruling.
“These revelations cut to the heart of this case,” wrote Dale Ho, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, who is leading the arguments for the Trump opponents.
The citizenship question has become a major battle line for liberal activists and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Earlier Wednesday the House Oversight Committee voted to recommend holding Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, in contempt of Congress for not complying fast enough or fully enough with subpoenas about the census.
Republicans on Capitol Hill said the contempt vote was another attempt to taint the case now before the Supreme Court.
The moves on Capitol Hill and in the courts could also be seen as a Hail Mary.
Based on the tenor of oral argument in April, most analysts figured the court was headed for a 5-4 decision upholding the citizenship question as a valid exercise of administration powers.
The full census regularly asked about citizenship up through 1950, the “long form” asked about it through 2000, and the American Community Survey — an annual census form that replaced the long form after 2000 — still asks about it.
But Democrats said adding it back into the full census now is an attempt to scare illegal immigrants and even legal resident minorities into not complying, thus skewing the census’s results.
“It has to be seen in the context — the context of an anti-immigrant policy coming out of this White House. And it’s designed to intimidate,” Rep. Gerald Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said during Wednesday’s contempt vote.
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