The Supreme Court on Friday said it was delaying arguments over whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others can be compelled to explain their actions in a case challenging the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
The court didn’t explain its decision, but the case has been overtaken by events. Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman of New York ordered the administration to stop its plans to add the question to the survey.
Furman said Ross broke a “veritable smorgasbord” of federal rules by ordering the citizenship question added against the advice of career officials who said it was likely to cut down the response rate and make the census less accurate.
Plaintiffs in the New York trial include 18 states and several cities and jurisdictions, along with civil rights groups. The trial addressed two of seven lawsuits that arose from Ross’s March decision to add the question. A trial over the question is underway in California, and another is set to begin next week in Maryland.
The plaintiffs had wanted to depose Ross about his motivations in adding the question. But the Supreme Court blocked that in October. In November, it said the trial in Furman’s court could go forward and agreed to consider the legal questions about forcing a high-ranking official to be questioned about motivation.
That question now seems less important in light of the decision by Furman, who said he relied only on the administrative record in the case in reaching his conclusion. He said the deposition of Ross was no longer necessary.
The Department of Justice has taken the first step to appeal Furman’s ruling. But the administration has said that it is important to have a final decision on the citizenship question by summer, so that census forms can be printed.
To make such a deadline, the Justice Department would likely need to bypass the appeals court that would normally review Furman’s decision and go straight to the Supreme Court.
Opponents of the question say it would reduce response rates in immigrant communities, possibly affecting congressional redistricting and the distribution of federal funding. The government said the question was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act.