MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Trump administration suffered a big defeat in court today over its plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. A federal judge in New York has concluded the question was unlawful and should be removed from census forms. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been covering this legal battle from the very beginning. He joins me now. Hey, Hansi.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: All right, before we get into the details of today's ruling, remind us just what exactly the wording is - was of the citizenship question.
WANG: The question asks, is this person a citizen of the United States? It's the kind of question that a sample of U.S. households have been asked by the government - but not all - since the 1950 census close to 70 years ago. And the Trump administration says it wants to add a citizenship question onto the 2020 census because it wants more detailed citizenship data to better enforce part of the Voting Rights Act, specifically Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which has protections against discrimination of racial and language minorities.
KELLY: Which explains perhaps why so many states and cities and all kinds of groups have sued to try to get this question taken off the census.
WANG: Right. They don't buy that reasoning from the Trump administration. The bottom line here is that all of these plaintiffs are worried that this question will result in fewer people being counted for the 2020 census. Remember; the Constitution requires a head count of - every 10 years of every person living in the U.S. But Census Bureau research suggests this question, the citizenship question, will scare away immigrants from participating. And that could have a direct impact on how power and money are distributed in this country.
You know, the plaintiffs are also arguing that the administration was misleading the public by using this Voting Rights Act to justify adding this question and not listening to recommendations from Census Bureau staffers who advocated for using existing government records instead of a citizenship question. And we heard earlier today from one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, Dale Ho of the American Civil Liberties Union. Let's listen to what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DALE HO: These are not the acts and statements of government officials who are merely trying to cut through red tape. Instead they are the acts and statements of officials with something to hide.
WANG: And I did reach out to the Justice Department, who sent back a statement. They said they are disappointed by this decision, and they are still, quote, "reviewing the ruling."
KELLY: OK, so that's what the various parties invested in this are saying. What's the judge saying? What was his reasoning behind his ruling today?
WANG: Well, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman wrote a very thorough opinion. It's really, you know, more than 270 pages written by someone who's expecting a higher court to look over his shoulder. You know, I was there every day for the trial in New York over the citizenship question. And Furman has said that he's expecting his decision to be appealed, so he put out a very carefully worded opinion.
And some of the main points here is that - one of them is essentially that he believes that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census - that he made the wrong call by adding a citizenship question before deciding to use existing government records as much as possible and that he made a, quote, "smorgasbord of violations" of administrative procedure act, including cherry-picking evidence to support his decision to add a citizenship question.
KELLY: Quickly before I let you go, Hansi, you said the judge expects his decision to be appealed. I mean, the timing here is tricky, right? We're a year away from the start of the 2020 census. Is that enough time for this to play out however it's going to ultimately play out in the courts?
WANG: It's going to be very, very tight. And we can't forget that there are lawsuits also in California and Maryland. There are - all underway. And we're going to keep on watching to see where this all - how this all unfolds.
KELLY: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covering all things census-related - thank you, Hansi.
WANG: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.