The ruling marks the opening round in a legal battle with potentially profound ramifications for federal policy and for politics at all levels, one that seems certain to reach the Supreme Court before the printing of census forms begins this summer.
In a lengthy and stinging ruling, Judge Jesse M. Furman of the United States District Court in Manhattan said that Wilbur L. Ross Jr., the commerce secretary, committed “a veritable smorgasbord” of violations of federal procedural law when he ordered the citizenship question added.
Mr. Ross “failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices,” Judge Furman wrote.You will recall that this matters because the Census Bureau's own analysis suggests that immigrants would be less likely to respond to the census questionnaire with such a question included in it. That would lower the number of people counted in the census, which could affect Congressional redistricting. Since immigrants disproportionately live in districts with a Democratic representative, this could skew redistricting, and thus Congress, more toward Republicans. The Washington Post has a nice graphic showing how this might work.
This case will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court, and it could also influence decisions in similar cases in California (where a trial is currently underway) and Maryland (where the trial starts next week).
These are among the many issues facing the new Director of the Census Bureau, Steven Dillingham, who was confirmed by the Senate earlier this month. He has prior experience managing government organizations, and does not appear to have specific political agendas to push, so the hope is that the Census will move forward smoothly. Of course, there is this partial government shutdown to worry about in terms of census funding...