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California Judge Blocks Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

A second federal judge rejected the Trump administration’s decision to ask people about their citizenship on the 2020 census, saying it “threatens the very foundation of our democratic system.”

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco, is similar to a recent decision by District Judge Jesse Furman in New York, who also concluded that adding the query — “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” — to the decennial questionnaire would violate federal law.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the administration’s expedited appeal of the New York ruling on April 23. If Seeborg’s decision follows the same short path to the high court, it potentially makes for another argument against adding the question to the census.

The Census Bureau has said it needs to start printing questionnaires by June.

Furman ruled that the addition of the question violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a federal law governing changes to agency regulations. California won the same argument, but Seeborg also ruled that the question violates the Enumeration Clause, the constitutional requirement to count the population. The violation of that clause requires “a more expansive injunction,” Seeborg wrote in his opinion.

The census is also used to apportion congressional seats, and the trial produced compelling evidence that adding the citizenship question poses “a significant risk” of distorting congressional representation, he wrote.

“In short, the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census threatens the very foundation of our democratic system — and does so based on a self-defeating rationale,” Seeborg wrote. The Commerce Department is blocked from adding the question regardless of whether it complies with the Administrative Procedure Act, he said.