Federal Judge Shreds Trump's DOJ For Seeking So Many Delays In Census Trial

The Justice Department's conduct in the citizenship question case could be subject to sanctions, the judge suggested.
The Trump administration keeps throwing up blocks in a case challenging Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The Trump administration keeps throwing up blocks in a case challenging Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

A federal judge in New York City strongly rebuked the Trump administration on Tuesday over its repeated attempts to slow down a lawsuit challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman came in response to a request that he halt further proceedings in the trial until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on what evidence he could consider. The Supreme Court had rejected a very similar request to temporarily stop the litigation just weeks ago, the judge noted.

The judge, who sits in the Southern District of New York, did not hold back his frustration in his 7-page opinion, noting that the Department of Justice had submitted 12 separate requests to delay the proceedings since the Labor Day weekend.

“Unless burdening Plaintiffs and the federal courts with make-work is a feature of Defendants’ litigation strategy, as opposed to a bug, it is hard to see the point,” Furman wrote.

All along, the judge has expressed a desire to move the case along quickly, recognizing that any decision he makes is likely to be appealed to higher courts and that the issue needs to be resolved quickly so that the Census Bureau has time to print the census forms.

“Enough is enough,” Furman wrote in his Tuesday ruling.

The lawsuit ― brought by 18 states, the District of Columbia, several cities and a handful of immigrant groups ― argues that the decision to add the citizenship question was motivated by discriminatory intent. They also say the decision should be set aside on the grounds that it was “arbitrary and capricious.”

In this latest effort to stall the proceedings, the Justice Department said that doing so would help conserve judicial resources, an argument the judge dismissed as “galling.”

“If Defendants were truly interested in conserving judicial resources, they could have avoided burdening this Court, the Second Circuit, and the Supreme Court with twelve stay applications over the last eleven weeks that, with one narrow exception, have been repeatedly rejected as meritless,” Furman wrote. “Instead, Defendants would have focused their attention on the ultimate issues in this case, where the attention of the parties and the Court now belongs.”

Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on Furman’s ruling.

The Justice Department appealed this latest motion to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit even before Furman had ruled on it ― a highly unusual move that clearly annoyed the judge, who suggested the department’s conduct in the case was sanctionable.

“Defendants’ motion makes so little sense, even on its own terms, that it is hard to understand as anything but an attempt to avoid a timely decision on the merits altogether,” the judge wrote. “That conclusion is reinforced by the fact that Defendants, once again, appealed to the Second Circuit even before this Court had heard from Plaintiffs, let alone issued this ruling on the motion.”

Furman also noted that the 2nd Circuit had already denied that appeal as “premature.”

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who is leading the case for the plaintiffs, praised Furman’s decision.

“We agree with Judge Furman: enough is enough,” Spitalnick said in a statement.

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