Trump administration asks top U.S. court to intervene in census suit

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(Reuters) - The Justice Department asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to block a lower court order for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to be questioned by lawyers for a group of states challenging a decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to ask people taking part in the 2020 census whether they are citizens.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan ruled on Sept. 21 that Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, must face a deposition by lawyers for the states because his “intent and credibility are directly at issue” in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in April in federal court New York, includes 18 states and a number of cities and counties, and was spearheaded by Democratic officials.

The Justice Department told the Supreme Court the states should not be allowed to probe Ross’s “mental state” in deciding to add the citizenship question to the census, saying that compelling testimony from high-ranking officials is rarely justified.

The U.S. Constitution mandates a census every 10 years. It is used to determine the allocation of seats in Congress and at the state level, the drawing of political boundaries and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds to communities.

Critics of the citizenship question have said it will deter people in immigrant communities from participating in the census, disproportionately affecting Democratic-leaning states.

The lawsuit stated, “These concerns have been amplified by the anti-immigrant policies, actions, and rhetoric targeting immigrant communities of President Trump and this Administration.”

The administration turned to the Supreme Court even as a New York-based federal appeals court is considering the Justice Department’s arguments against Furman’s orders. The appeals court has temporarily put on hold the deposition of Ross, but refused to halt the deposition of a Justice Department official, John Gore.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham