NEW YORK —A judge said Friday that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross must answer questions under oath about why he wants to include a question about citizenship status on the 2020 U.S. Census.
Ross’s testimony is central to the case filed by State Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office, which alleges that the Trump administration acted in bad faith when proposing the question, Manhattan Federal Judge Jesse Furman wrote.
“The Court concludes that the question is not a close one: Secretary Ross must sit for a deposition because, among other things, his intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases,” Furman wrote.
New York is part of a coalition of states and advocacy groups that say a Census question about citizenship status will deter undocumented immigrants from participating, and thus produce an inaccurate population count.
To prevail in the suit, Underwood’s office must show Ross was motivated by “discriminatory animus,” which can only be proved by questioning him directly, Furman wrote.
“If that evidence establishes that the stated reason for Secretary Ross’s decision was not the real one, a reasonable factfinder may be able to infer from that and other evidence that he was ‘dissembling to cover up a discriminatory purpose,’” Furman wrote.
The judge noted that Ross himself had given an array of contradictory information about his decision to add the question.
For example, Ross told Congress earlier this year that he’d not discussed the proposed question with any White House staff. It’s since emerged he likely discussed the topic with Steve Bannon.
“In light of … the unusual circumstances presented in these cases, the public interest weighs heavily in favor of both transparency and ensuring the development of a comprehensive record to evaluate the propriety of Secretary Ross’s decision,” Furman wrote.
The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.