Supreme Court sidesteps dispute over Ross questioning in census suit

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies before a Senate Finance hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2018.    REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to halt an order compelling Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to answer questions by lawyers for a group of states suing over a Trump administration decision to ask respondents to the 2020 census whether they are citizens.
In a one-sentence order, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg denied the Trump administration's request to stay a lower court's ruling that allowed for the deposition of Ross and another administration official while a federal appeals court in New York reviews the dispute.
But Ginsburg said the government could request the Supreme Court's intervention after the appeals court rules and "before the depositions in question are taken."
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan ruled on Sept. 21 that Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, must face a deposition because his “intent and credibility are directly at issue” in the litigation.
The lawsuit, which includes 18 states and a number of cities and counties, was spearheaded by Democratic officials.
The U.S. Constitution mandates a census every 10 years, which is used to allocate seats in Congress and state legislatures and distribute billions of dollars in federal funds.
Critics of adding a citizenship question to the census have said it will deter people in immigrant communities from participating in the census, disproportionately affecting Democratic-leaning states.
The Justice Department told the Supreme Court that the states should not be allowed to probe Ross’s "mental state" over the citizenship question, saying that compelling testimony from high-ranking officials is rarely justified.

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