U.S. Supreme Court


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The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear oral arguments in an ongoing battle over whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross should be questioned under oath about his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The Washington Post, SCOTUSBlog and the Hill reported that oral arguments on that subject will be held February 19.

The underlying dispute is over whether the decision to ask people about their citizenship as part of the census was politically motivated. The Commerce Department, which oversees the census, says it was added at the request of the Justice Department as a way to gather data that could help enforce the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs in the six lawsuits challenging it say the decision was political—asking about citizenship will discourage immigrant households from participating at all, they say.

That will likely result in an undercount in immigrant-heavy areas; chief Census Bureau scientist John Abowd has testified at a deposition that the question could reduce the noncitizen household response rate by 5 percent or more. Plaintiffs say it’s not a coincidence that those areas tend to vote for Democrats. An undercount would result in fewer Congressional representatives in those areas, and likely the loss of some federal resources.

The plaintiffs in the case the Supreme Court took want to question Ross and John Gore, the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, about information outside the written record. During discovery, they found evidence that Ross consulted former White House advisor Stephen Bannon and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach prior to making the decision.

The federal government, opposing the request, characterized it as “an intrusive fishing expedition” and said the case should rely only on the agency’s records.

Two of the cases are consolidated and currently in trial in New York federal court. The Supreme Court declined to block that trial earlier this month. In October, the high court did block a deposition of Ross, but permitted a deposition of Gore.