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Judge Sanctions Trump Admin After Citizenship Question Lawsuit

An Obama-appointed federal judge sanctioned the Trump administration on Thursday, ruling that the White House did not provide sufficient documentation amid its failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

Jesse Furman, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered the Trump administration on Thursday to pay attorney fees as punishment.

The administration, Furman found, did not provide hundreds of relevant documents that should’ve been turned over when it was sued for trying to add a citizenship question on this year’s census survey.

In 2019, the administration waged a protracted courtroom battle to add a question to the 2020 decennial census questionnaire asking individuals whether they are citizens of the U.S. The fight went all the way to the Supreme Court last summer, and the administration eventually gave up on the idea.

Furman, who initially ruled against the question being included in the census, followed up on the Supreme Court’s ruling a month later by issuing an order that permanently blocked the White House from adding the question.

After Furman’s order, the same progressive organizations that successfully blocked the question sought sanctions against the administration, arguing that they withheld evidence in order to conceal their true reasons for inserting the question. The White House, the plaintiffs argued, sought to add the citizenship question for political reasons, not for their stated reasons of voting rights enforcement.

Furman on Thursday agreed that the defendants withheld pertinent documentation.

“[T]he Court concludes that sanctions are justified with respect to Defendants’ admitted failure to review and produce hundreds of documents that should have been disclosed prior to trial — a failure that may well have been inadvertent, but is nevertheless unacceptable for any litigant, and particularly for the Department of Justice (“DOJ”),” the judge wrote.

“To be sure, this was not DOJ’s finest hour,” Furman wrote in a scathing assessment of the Justice Department. “In other words, Defendants’ failure to produce the documents was caused by a lapse that would make a first-year litigation associate wince.” 

The punishment for the sanctions was rather limited in scope. Furman ordered the administration must pay the attorney fees ACLU accumulated while arguing that the information should be handed over.

The challenge was brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been behind a number of lawsuits targeting the Trump administration, particularly regarding its immigration agenda.

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