The 2020 census will ask respondents if they are U.S. citizens for the first time since 1950 — unless lawsuits challenging it succeed. But the trial for those suits should be postponed, the Trump administration argued Monday, so the Supreme Court can settle another dispute: Can Cabinet secretaries be forced to testify about their decisions under oath?
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department administrates the census, has been ordered by a lower court judge to sit for a deposition about his rationale and intent in including the question. (A memo suggests he was the driving force behind its addition.) The administration says thus compelling a secretary to testify is unacceptable.
"[T]he real-world costs that proceeding to trial would impose on the government, especially one probing the mental processes of a Cabinet secretary to determine whether he harbors secret racial animus, would unavoidably distract the government, including the Commerce Department, 'from the energetic performance of its constitutional duties' in a manner that warrants a stay," Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in Monday's filing.
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The trial over the census question will begin next Monday at least with testimony from other high-ranking Commerce Department officials if SCOTUS does not act.
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