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Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Questioning Of Ross In Census Lawsuits


The Supreme Court has weighed in on the lawsuits over the controversial citizenship question on the 2020 census. The court has sided with the Trump administration and temporarily blocked the questioning of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Dozens of states, cities and other groups are suing over Ross's decision to add the question which asks census takers if they are U.S. citizens. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been reporting on these lawsuits. He joins us now from New York. Good morning, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So why did the Supreme Court temporarily block a lower order for the commerce secretary to testify for these lawsuits?

WANG: Well, this is a request from the Trump administration, which has been arguing that these lawsuits should be resolved based on internal documents, emails, memos they've already released for these lawsuits about the citizenship question and not on any questioning of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The plaintiffs in these lawsuits really want to question Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross because they think that these documents are not sufficient, that there have been inconsistencies in Ross's testimony to Congress about why and when he added the citizenship question. And the plaintiffs want to use a deposition questioning of Ross in order to get more evidence.

This is all preparation for a trial that is expected to begin on November 5 in New York. It would be the first trial of the six lawsuits around the country. And at this point, the Trump administration could ask the Supreme Court to permanently block Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's deposition. Or he could even ask the Supreme Court to hear this case. So we're not quite sure right now what will happen in this trial if that is the case.

KING: Well, what is the Supreme Court order mean for the states and cities that are suing over the citizenship question?

WANG: It means that the window is really closing to collect additional evidence to support their claims in this lawsuit. And it's important to remember the Supreme Court did allow, last night in this order, the plaintiffs' attorneys to question a Justice Department official, John Gore. He's the acting head of the civil rights division that this administration says needs this citizenship question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. And the Supreme Court is allowing additional document requests. But, again, we have to see what the administration does next in their next expected request to the Supreme Court and what they may ask the Supreme Court to do before a trial starts.

KING: And Hansi, when can we expect to find out, like, the final fate of the citizenship question?

WANG: Ultimately, these - this legal battle is expected to be argued in front of the Supreme Court. And so once this gets fully onto the Supreme Court docket, we are likely not going to get a answer on whether or not this question stays or goes from the courts until possibly early summer before the Supreme Court wraps up its session.

KING: It'll take some time. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers the census.

Thanks, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
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