Judge: Claims of political motives in census fight 'serious'

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NEW YORK (AP) — Allegations that Republicans pushed to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census because they thought it would give white people an electoral advantage are "serious," a judge said Wednesday as he put the matter on a slow track to keep it out of the way of an imminent Supreme Court ruling.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman spoke in a crowded New York courtroom where some anticipated he'd quickly get to claims made last week by opponents of the citizenship question.

The high court is considering the Justice Department's appeal of rulings by Furman and two other judges in California and Maryland who concluded that the question was improperly added to the census last year by the Commerce Department without adequate consideration.

"I am acutely aware of the fact it is currently pending before the Supreme Court," Furman said of the status of court cases testing the legality of adding the question for the first time since 1950.

Still, he said the new allegations based on documents discovered last summer "are serious."

"They are not, as the defendant says, frivolous," he said.

Furman said he didn't want to do anything that would seem he was crossing the line and trying to influence the high court. He set dates for submission of written arguments in July and August, after the Supreme Court is expected to rule.

He said the newly raised issues don't lend themselves "to a rushed decision" and said whatever the Supreme Court writes may contribute to resolving the new claims.

Opponents say the citizenship question will scare off immigrants and cause a loss in the Congressional representation and federal funding for communities and states where large numbers of immigrants and Democrats reside.

They said in last week's court filing that new evidence shows a Republican redistricting expert pushed the change to help tilt elections to white people and Republicans.

The Justice Department denied it was done for political reasons and blamed opponents of the question of trying to manufacture an "11th-hour" issue to influence or interrupt the high court.

During oral arguments last month, Supreme Court justices seemed divided on the issue along political lines, making it seem that the question would be allowed onto the census.

Furman said he no longer has jurisdiction over the case, though he could issue sanctions or make contempt-of-court findings if it is proven that Republicans unjustly manipulated the government and hid it as the court considered the legality of the change to the census.

Last week, opponents of the question alleged that longtime Republican gerrymandering expert Thomas Hofeller, who has since died, pressured the Trump administration to include the question.

In court papers this week, Justice Department lawyers wrote that the new legal effort by opponents "borders on frivolous, and appears to be an attempt to reopen the evidence in this already-closed case and to drag this court into plaintiffs' eleventh-hour campaign to improperly derail the Supreme Court's resolution of the government's appeal."

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