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3rd Judge Blocks Trump Administration's 2020 Census Citizenship Question

GREENBELT, Md. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — A third federal judge has blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, ruling Friday that it poses a "substantial risk" of undercounting Hispanics and non-citizens.

U.S. District Judge George Hazel in Maryland also concluded that a citizenship question is "arbitrary and capricious" and violates the Constitution and the federal Administrative Procedure Act.

Federal judges in New York and California previously barred the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the census for the first time since 1950. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on April 23 for the Justice Department's appeal of the New York judge's decision.

Hazel heard six days of trial testimony in January before ruling.

"Overwhelming evidence supports the Court's finding that a citizenship question will cause a differential decline in Census participation among noncitizen and Hispanic households," he wrote in his 119-page decision.

The Supreme Court justices are expected to rule by late June, which the Trump administration said is soon enough to allow printing and distribution of census forms next April.

Because of the tight timeframe for printing census forms, the high court granted unusually quick review of the first decision that went against the administration. That ruling, from a federal judge in New York, held that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' decision to have the census ask about citizenship was "arbitrary and capricious" under federal law. The second ruling, from a court in California, also found that asking about citizenship would violate the Constitution, which calls for a count of all people, not just citizens.

Former U.S. Census Bureau director John Thompson, the first plaintiffs' witness for the bench trial in Maryland, testified Ross disregarded "long established" Census Bureau protocols in adding the citizenship question. Thompson, who oversaw the bureau from 2013 through June 2017, said he doesn't think officials properly tested the question for the 2020 census.

"It's very problematic for me," Thompson said of Ross' decision.

In a court filing, plaintiffs' attorneys said Ross communicated with former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other administration officials before issuing the March 2018 directive "to further the unconstitutional goal of diluting the political power of non-white immigrant communities."

The Census is used to determine billions of dollars in federal funding for schools, roads, and other projects. Civil Liberties attorney Alan Dershowitz sat down with CBS 11 News last year and stressed that the Census is also required by the constitution. "We get to determine who gets Congressional seats based on the Census," he said.

The Census Bureau began collecting citizenship data through the annual American Community Survey in 2005. Government lawyers said in a court filing that Ross decided to use the same wording from that "well-tested question" on the ACS for the citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The plaintiffs for the Maryland case include residents of Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Florida. Attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund also sued on behalf of more than two dozen organizations and individuals. The court agreed to consolidate the claims in December.

Plaintiffs' attorneys had urged Hazel to proceed with the Maryland trial as scheduled since the judge's ruling in the New York case could be reversed on appeal.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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