A federal trial judge in New York City, assigned to rule on President Trump’s power to block the counting of undocumented immigrants in dividing up House of Representatives seats next year, moved on Tuesday to speed up his handling of the case.
In a three-page order, issued one day after the case landed on his docket, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman noted the “time sensitivities” and gave the lawyers two weeks to help him sort out what is involved and how to move toward a decision. The order can be read here.
It was no surprise that Furman showed a broad familiarity with what is at stake, since the new cases before him are something of a sequel to his prior ruling — upheld by the Supreme Court one year ago — that barred the Trump Administration from asking everyone in the nation during the 2020 census about whether they are citizens.
Among the other issues the judge asked lawyers in two cases to address were:
- Does the case have to be decided by a specific date [since the new figures on which the House seats are to be apportioned must be available in December].
- Whether to include the massive record from the earlier case in the new cases.
- Whether the cases can be decided with the two sides agreeing on what the facts are.
- Whether the cases can be decided without any “discovery” by either or both sides to gather new evidence or at least with “minimal discovery.”
- Whether those challenging the presidential memo plan to ask for short-term orders to temporarily block the Administration from taking any action to implement the new presidential directive.
In an interesting move, the judge asked whether he should try to coordinate his handling of the case with judges handling similar challenges that are now pending in federal courts in Alabama, California, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. The inclusion of that item was a further indication that Judge Furman had been anticipating that he might wind up with the new challenges, and was paying attention to the court challenges being filed against the Trump order.
He also included a catch-all request for “any other information that the parties believe may assist the court in advancing the case[s] to resolution.” (He referred to each case is the singular because they have not yet been formally consolidated — another issue the lawyers are to answer.)
The parties are to address his questions by a joint filing, due on August 10. The judge scheduled a telephone conference with the lawyers for Thursday afternoon, August 13. The counsel will be expected at that time to be ready to propose a schedule for processing the case.
The case probably will turn mainly on a core constitutional question: are documented immigrants to be considered “persons” under the Constitution, because the basic document requires that, in calculating the nation’s population, every “person” is to be counted in the census, and the census total is to be the basic for apportioning the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.
The Administration’s lawyers are expected to argue — as Attorney General William Barr did on Tuesday in a contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Committee — that immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally should not be counted in the apportionment process because “persons” means “inhabitants” and those people are not actually living in the U.S., however long they have been in the country.
That is a concept that is borrowed from federal immigration law. Under that concept, a person who does not have legal permission to come into the country is deemed to be still waiting at the border and cannot be considered an inhabitant until such permission has been obtained.
The challengers are expected to argue that, as long as there have been undocumented immigrants living inside the country, they have been counted in the census and in the House apportionment process. They also will argue that the presidential directive discriminates against Hispanics on the basis of race. (That same claim was before Judge Furman in the census citizenship question case, but he decided that case on other grounds.)
The Administration is expected to argue, in addition to defending the President’s authority to issue the memo, that the case is premature because nothing has been done yet to carry out that order and thus no one has been harmed in a legal sense.
Judge Furman made clear that he expects both sides to spell out, in their August 10 joint letter, what legal claims or maneuvers they intend to put forward.