Advocacy groups that sued to block the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to delay issuing a ruling on the question's fate.
In a filing released Wednesday, they cite recently uncovered documents that they say show an alleged cover-up of the real reason the Trump administration wants the hotly contested question on forms for next year's national head count.
"The significance of this case cannot be overstated. The census happens once a decade and there is no chance for a do-over," said Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project who helped represent the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. "The Supreme Court should not permit the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the census based on an incomplete and misleading record."
The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision by the end of the month on whether the Trump administration can include on census forms the question, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" The case was argued before the justices in April, more than a month before the plaintiffs brought forth the newly revealed documents.
The justices are under pressure to make a ruling by July 1, which is the deadline by which the Census Bureau says it must start printing 1.5 billion census forms, letters and other mailings.
Last week, a federal judge at a lower court in New York set a schedule through early August for reviewing the plaintiffs' cover-up allegations. During a hearing, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman — whose ruling to block the administration's plans for the question was appealed to the Supreme Court — called the latest allegations "serious," but he stopped short of making any rulings that would interfere with the high court's review.
The administration has maintained it wants a citizenship question on the census to better enforce part of the Voting Rights Act.
But the plaintiffs argue that the documents of a deceased GOP redistricting strategist show that the administration was driven to add the question to give Republicans and non-Hispanic white people a political advantage when new voting maps are drawn after the 2020 census. They allege that a Justice Department official and a former consultant to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, provided false or misleading testimony about the question's origins for the lawsuits.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department, which is representing the administration in this legal battle, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Both attorneys for the administration and the plaintiffs informed the Supreme Court of the new allegations earlier this month. The justices are set to meet Thursday to discuss the remaining cases in their current term, which is currently scheduled to end in just over two weeks.