Supreme Court blocks Ross questioning in census suit

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday blocked a judge’s order forcing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to give a deposition in a lawsuit by 18 states challenging a planned question in the 2020 census that would ask respondents whether they are U.S. citizens.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross gestures during an interview with Reuters in his office at the U.S. Department of Commerce building in Washington, U.S., October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

The justices issued a stay of the Sept. 21 order by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan requiring Ross to face questioning by lawyers for the states while litigation over the politically charged dispute continues.

The decision made it unlikely that Ross would testify at an upcoming trial in the case, which is scheduled for Nov. 5.

It represented only a partial win for President Donald Trump’s administration as the justices declined to halt Furman’s orders compelling a top Justice Department official, John Gore, to sit for a deposition and for the administration to hand over more documents on the matter.

Conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas said they would have issued a complete stay.

The court gave the government until Oct. 29 to appeal all of Furman’s orders.

Furman had said 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.

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.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney

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