April 5 (UPI) -- A third federal judge ruled that the Department of Commerce's plans to include a question about citizenship in the 2020 census is unlawful Friday.
U.S. District Judge George Hazel in Maryland said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' plan to add the question exceeds his authority. Hazel said the department "manufactured" a reason for asking the census-taker's citizenship status and hid the real purpose behind the question.
"The Census Bureau repeatedly, consistently, and unanimously recommended against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census," Hazel wrote in his 119-page ruling.
Ross first proposed the question for inclusion March 26, 2018, stating it is to help enforce Voting Rights Act provisions that protect racial and language minorities -- an explanation that Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates don't buy. He did so purportedly at the behest of the Justice Department, which he said requested the question's inclusion in December 2017.
Questions about citizenship status haven't been asked by census takers since the 1950s, but last year the Trump administration said it planned to add it back in 2020.
The American Civil Liberties Union joined California and New York in fighting the citizenship question on grounds that undocumented immigrants might be afraid to respond to the census, resulting in an inaccurate tally.
Hazel said that because asking the question could result in an inaccurate tally, it could affect representation in Congress and was therefore unconstitutional.
Hazel joined two other federal judges who have sided against the Commerce Department in the fight over the citizenship question. In January, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of New York, and in March, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of California ruled against the question.