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Commerce Department ordered to release more documents on census citizenship question

A federal judge has directed the Commerce Department to review and make public a large cache of previously unreleased documents related to the 2020 census an...

Posted: Jan 3, 2020 3:45 AM
Updated: Jan 3, 2020 3:48 AM

A federal judge has directed the Commerce Department to review and make public a large cache of previously unreleased documents related to the 2020 census and the Trump administration's effort to include a citizenship question in the survey.

The documents, including emails and attachments sent to and from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others, amount to around 20,000 pages, the Justice Department told the New York trial court in December. That equates to about 40% of the pages the government had previously produced in the litigation.

The Justice Department had argued the documents should not be released in their entirety because the case has already been decided. After a Supreme Court ruling in the case last year, President Donald Trump and Ross announced they would no longer seek to add the controversial question about citizenship status, which critics believe would depress the response rate to the survey.

Judge Jesse Furman, who heard the original trial in his New York courtroom in 2018, wrote Thursday that his directive was "more aggressive" than the government wanted and that he realizes it "will impose burdens on the Department of Justice."

"But Defendants have no one but themselves to blame since the documents at issue should have been produced a year and a half ago," he wrote.

Furman is considering a request from the plaintiffs, which include New York state and an immigration group, for financial sanctions and attorneys' fees. The plaintiffs believe the documents could shed further light on the origins of the proposed citizenship question, which Furman and other trial judges found to be unclear. Documentation found since the trials has indicated that a Republican redistricting consultant concluded that including a citizenship question on the survey would be "advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites."

The government has previously explained to the court that the missing documents were inadvertently omitted from the large cache it produced prior to the original trial because of "a technical error."

The directive means the government must review, redact and produce a set of emails including those involving Ross by January 10. The attachments are due two weeks later. Those emails and attachments amount to about 9,300 pages, Justice Department attorneys previously told the court. The remainder of the documents are due about a month later.

The Justice Department had asked to have until January 31 to begin its production. The two parties told the court last week that they had discussed how to handle the documents on Christmas Eve and December 26 but were unable to agree how to proceed.

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