Judge Rebukes Trump Officials Over Bid to Stop Census Trial

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge in New York chastised the U.S. Justice Department for seeking an emergency halt to a trial over the Trump administration’s plan to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, saying its efforts were “puzzling, if not sanctionable.”

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who heard testimony in the case in Manhattan earlier this month, rejected the government’s latest bid to derail the case, noting it was one of a dozen such requests. Furman said the government’s claims that it would suffer harm unless he put the case on hold “makes so little sense, even on its own terms, that it is hard to understand as anything but an attempt to avoid a timely decision on the merits altogether.”

Referring to a “sanctionable line,” Furman said the Justice Department’s filing “would sure seem to cross it.” He said the government’s repeated requests about the case before him, made to different courts, has shown an “extraordinary lack of respect” for judicial norms.

Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Less than 24 hours after Furman issued his opinion, a federal appeals court in New York upheld it.

The suit is one of several contesting the government’s decision to ask respondents to the census whether they are U.S. citizens, a question that hasn’t appeared on the once-a-decade questionnaire since 1950.

Plaintiffs led by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who sued in April, say the Trump administration is reviving the citizenship question to scare noncitizens away from the survey, diluting their political power. Results of the census are used to apportion congressional seats and Electoral College votes and help direct billions of dollars in federal aid. The administration has called plaintiffs’ claims a set of “unrelated innuendos” and noted that it is empowered to design the census.

The government’s argument in its latest bid to halt the trial was that the U.S. Supreme Court has already agreed to hear an appeal over what evidence can be presented -- including whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department includes the Census Bureau, can be questioned about his decision to add the query.

Furman said that was no reason to halt the case before him, since a decision could help the high court in reaching its final determination. He has scheduled closing arguments for Nov. 27.

“In the final analysis, defendants’ motion is most galling insofar as it is premised on the suggestion that granting a stay would help conserve judicial resources,” the judge said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.