By Andrew Chung
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday rejected a bid by President Donald Trump's administration to halt a trial set to start on Nov. 5 testing the legality of its contentious decision to ask people taking part in the 2020 U.S. census whether they are citizens.
Manhattan U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said a postponement of the trial could hinder a final resolution of the case before the government begins printing the census forms next year. "Time is of the essence," Furman said in the ruling.
Even before the judge had acted, the administration also asked a New York federal appeals court to put the trial on hold temporarily, as well as other pre-trial activity, until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves a dispute over evidence, including whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross can be forced to answer questions about the politically charged decision.
The Supreme Court on Monday blocked Ross' pre-trial deposition and gave the administration until next Monday to appeal all of the trial judge's orders regarding compelling documents and other testimony before trial.
The lawsuit, brought by 18 states and a number of cities and counties, was spearheaded by Democratic officials. It is consolidated with another suit by several immigrant rights groups accusing the administration of discrimination against non-white immigrants in violation of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Critics of the citizenship question have said it will deter people in immigrant communities from participating in the census, disproportionately affecting Democratic-leaning states by undercounting the number of residents.
The administration told the appeals court there should be no trial to probe Ross' motives for adding the citizenship question to the census. If the Supreme Court rules in its favour, "the need for a trial might be obviated altogether," the administration said.
Furman said in a Sept. 21 order that Ross, whose department oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, must be questioned because his "intent and credibility are directly at issue" in the lawsuit.
The U.S. Constitution mandates a census every 10 years. It is used in the allocation of seats in Congress and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds. A citizenship question has not appeared on the census since 1950.
The administration has said it needs the data to enforce a voting rights law as it relates to minority voters.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Dan Grebler and Will Dunham)
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Updated Date: Oct 27, 2018 00:08 AM