WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration says it will appeal directly to the Supreme Court to be allowed to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, bypassing the court of appeals and seeking a final ruling by the end of June.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco says in court papers filed Tuesday that the rare and fast turnaround is necessary if census questionnaires are to be printed in time.
A week ago, a federal judge blocked the administration from asking about citizenship on the upcoming census.
It's been 30 years since the court took on an issue without waiting for a federal appeals court to weigh in. Francisco says the justices should hear arguments in April or a special session in May.
The citizenship question is the third time since October that Francisco is seeking the court's intervention without an appellate ruling. The other two are Obama-era programs to shield young immigrants from deportation and allow transgender people to serve in the military. The Supreme Court hasn't acted on the immigration case, and an appellate court has since ruled on the issue. The justices on Tuesday denied early review of the transgender service policy, but allowed Pentagon restrictions that had been blocked by lower courts to take effect while the appeals process unfolds.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in March 2018 that the 2020 census would be the first since 1950 to include a citizenship question. The question would help the government enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act that is intended to assure access to the ballot.
But 18 states, the District of Columbia, 15 big cities or counties, and immigrants' rights groups sued the Commerce Department, which designs the census, and claimed it failed to properly analyze the effect that the question would have on households with immigrants. The challengers said the Trump administration added the question to discourage immigrants from participating, potentially leading to a population undercount — and possibly fewer seats in Congress — in places that tend to vote Democratic.
U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman used Census Bureau estimates to conclude the citizenship question would depress responses in households with noncitizens by at least 5.8 percent.
Furman ruled that Ross acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner and violated the law.
The justices already had agreed to an administration request to hear arguments over whether Furman could base his decision on depositions of high-ranking officials and other material that was not part of the administrative record the Commerce Department compiled in deciding to ask about citizenship. In the end, Furman largely stuck to that record and the court has now called off arguments that were scheduled for Feb. 19.
The court could decide in the next few weeks whether to set new arguments on the timetable the Justice Department wants.