NEW YORK, U.S. - In a ruling that came as a setback for the U.S. President Donald Trump, a federal judge invalidated the administration's bid to add a U.S. citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The ruling, which was the first in a handful of lawsuits, was issued by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan, who concluded that the query will hurt immigrants in the country.
In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Furman said that the U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had concealed his true motives in adding the question in March last year.
Furman called Ross' Voting Rights Act rationale "pretextual" in his 277-page opinion.
The Judge said, "He announced his decision in a manner that concealed its true basis rather than explaining it."
The ruling came in response to a case brought by plaintiffs including 18 U.S. states, 15 cities and various civil rights groups, who argued that asking census respondents whether they are U.S. citizens will frighten immigrants and Latinos into abstaining from the count.
According to the plaintiffs, such a response could cost their mostly Democratic-leaning communities representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It could also impact their share of some $800 billion a year in federal funding.
Further, the plaintiffs had alleged Ross had been planning this impact from the introduction of the question all along.
However, Ross had insisted the government needed citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.
The Commerce Secretary had argued that the Voting Rights Act protects eligible voters from discrimination since only American citizens can vote in federal elections.
Ross claimed that the question was necessary to enforce federal laws protecting eligible voters.
While Ross had insisted that he added the question at the request of the Justice Department, the evidence presented at the trial showed that the Commerce Secretary had independently pushed for it much earlier.
However, Judge Furman insisted that Ross and his aides behaved "like people with something to hide," leading to the "inescapable" conclusion that they "did have something to hide."
Now, the ruling by Judge Furman is set to be appealed and could come up before the Supreme Court later this year.
Following the ruling, a Justice Department spokeswoman, Kelly Laco said that the administration was "disappointed."
Laco said that the "government is legally entitled to include a citizenship question on the census, and people in the United States have a legal obligation to answer."
Meanwhile, commenting on Furman's ruling, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the plaintiffs' case, Dale Ho called it "a forceful rebuke of the Trump administration's attempt to weaponize the census."
Tuesday's ruling means that the Trump administration would be barred from re-adding the question unless the "legal defects" in Ross' rationale can be "cured."
There are also at least five other lawsuits that are seeking to quash the citizenship question that are still pending.
A U.S. citizenship question has not appeared on the decennial census since 1950.