The Supreme Court has halted the deposition of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from taking place in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
In an unsigned order late Monday, the high court sided with the Justice Department, which asked the court to shield Ross from having to answer questions under oath as part of the legal challenge filed by states, localities, and civil rights groups.
The court’s order puts on hold a ruling from the lower court in New York, which allowed for Ross to be deposed.
Though the Supreme Court shielded Ross from the questioning, the high court allowed the deposition of John Gore, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, to move forward. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented on the decision to allow the deposition of Gore.
“Respectfully, I would take the next logical step and simply stay all extra-record discovery pending our review,” Gorsuch wrote in his dissent. “When it comes to the likelihood of success, there’s no reason to distinguish between Secretary Ross’s deposition and those of other senior executive officials: each stems from the same doubtful bad faith ruling, and each seeks to explore his motives.”
A trial in the legal dispute is scheduled to begin in federal court in New York on Nov. 5, but in his dissent, Gorsuch suggested the district court postpone the proceedings.
Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, said the Supreme Court’s order allows the case to proceed.
“We welcome the court’s decision to allow us to complete discovery in the case, with the exception only of Sec. Ross’s deposition, which remains on hold pending further briefing,” Spitalnick said in a statement. “We’ll get to the bottom of how the decision to demand citizenship status was made, as we continue our case to ensure a full and fair Census.”
Ross announced in March the decision to include the question on the 2020 Census and said doing so would ensure better enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.
But the move prompted the legal challenge from New York and the other states, one of six that seek to stop the Trump administration from including the citizenship question on the Census.
The states argue the addition would lead to a population undercount that would disproportionately affect states and cities with large immigrant populations.
After New York filed its lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said Ross and Gore had to sit for depositions about the decision to add the citizenship question.
In his order, Furman said Ross had to sit for the deposition “because, among other things, his intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases.”
Furman said the record in the case “casts grave doubt” on prior claims made by Ross in testimony before Congress and a memorandum announcing the decision, when he said he examined adding the citizenship question after receiving a request from the Justice Department in December.
But court filings this month revealed Ross spoke with then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in the spring of 2017 about including the citizenship question.
Justice Department officials said in the filing that Ross recalled Bannon calling him then to ask if he would talk with Kris Kobach, then the Kansas secretary of state, about ideas for the citizenship question.
In addition to speaking with Bannon, Ross also discussed the citizenship question with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the spring of 2017 and at “subsequent times.”