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ACLU asks Supreme Court to delay ruling on census citizenship question

By
Darryl Coote

June 13 (UPI) -- The American Civil Liberties Union requested the Supreme Court to delay making a decision whether the Trump administration can include a controversial question in the 2020 census form until next fall, according to court files.

Lawyers with the ACLU said in the documents filed with the Supreme Court Wednesday that if the justices do not agree with a lower court's ruling to keep the controversial question from inclusion in the census, they should return it to the district court "to engage in expedited fact-finding and, if appropriate, to make supplemental findings."

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"If ever there were a case that should be decided on the basis of a true and complete record, it is this one," the filing said. "The Decennial Census is one of the United States government's most important constitutional responsibilities, and even an appearance that the government has manipulated the census for partisan and racially discriminatory purposes would undermine public confidence in our representative democracy."

The filing follows a vote hours earlier by the House Oversight Committee to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress after they failed to provide the committee with a small batch of records it requested in connection with the census question.

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President Donald Trump acted earlier in the day to block the committee from seeing the documents that outlined why his administration added the question to the census.

The question -- which asks the census taker if they are a citizen of the United States -- was first proposed for inclusion in the census by Ross March 26, 2018, arguing it would enforce Voting Rights Act provisions that protect racial and language minorities. But critics say the question would scare undocumented immigrants from filling out the 2020 census.

Data collected by the census determines congressional districts and allocates electoral votes for the next decade, and immigrant communities, fearful of being discriminated against by answering that question, would be under represented.

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The ACLU said in the late Wednesday filing that new evidence that reinforces its argument against the question has been discovered since oral arguments in the case were heard in April.

The new evidence shows that a longtime Republican redistricting strategist, the late Thomas Hofeller, had played a significant role in adding the question to the census while also cobbling together its defense.

"Commerce [Department] understood that adding a citizenship question would enable redistricting methods harmful to voters of color, and that Commerce knew that the [Voting Rights Act] rationale was a pretext for that real motivation: i.e., that the purpose of adding a citizenship question was not to protect minority voting rights, but to dilute them," ACLU said in the filing, adding the VRA rationale behind the citizenship question was conceived by Hofeller to "facilitate redistricting methods 'advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.'"

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The Justice Department has compared the ACLU filings to a "conspiracy theory."

U.S. District of New York Jess M. Furman said in a letter to the Supreme Court that the ACLU had misrepresented Hofeller's work.

"There is no smoking gun here; only smoke and mirrors," he said.

The Supreme Court was expected to rule on the question in the coming weeks.

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