MANHATTAN (CN) – After a dozen attempts to block a trial on the constitutionality of a proposed change to the 2020 census – which could waylay Democratic voting power for the next decade – the Justice Department heard “enough is enough” Tuesday from a federal judge.
“What makes the motion most puzzling, if not sanctionable, is that they sought and were denied virtually the same relief only weeks ago – from this court, from the Second Circuit, and from the Supreme Court itself,” the ruling by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman states.
The Justice Department and Commerce Department have lodged 12 motions with Furman, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a lawsuit questioning Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add a citizenship question to the upcoming decennial census.
“That’s an average of a request to delay filed each and every single week from Labor Day to Thanksgiving,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood noted earlier Tuesday in a letter to Furman.
In a statement following the ruling, Underwood’s spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick wrote: “We agree with Judge Furman: enough is enough.”
Underwood has been leading 18 attorneys general and five civil rights groups in warning that the census change was designed to scare off immigrants of color from filling out the surveys, potentially diluting political representation and funding of Democratic communities.
After trial concluded last week, the government tried yet again to stop proceedings: first with a new motion to Furman, then an appeal to the Second Circuit without waiting for Furman to rule.
Furman excoriated what he called the government’s “latest and strangest effort” to “halt the orderly progress of this litigation.”
“Unless burdening plaintiffs and the federal courts with make-work is a feature of defendants’ litigation strategy, as opposed to a bug, it is hard to see the point,” Furman wrote in the scathing 7-page ruling.
“To borrow from Camus, ‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy,’” he continued, referring to the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus’ essay drawing from the Greek myth of a king condemned to continually roll a boulder up a hill.
Quoting Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” later, Furman predicted U.S. courts would encounter more drudgery in the form of “meritless” government motions.
“If past is prologue and [the Justice and Commerce departments] seek a stay from the Supreme Court yet again, their burden will be equally high, if not higher,” he wrote.
Only two of the Supreme Court’s nine justices – Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas – agreed with the government’s position calling to halt evidence collection the last time the matter hit the high court. Closing arguments in the trial have been scheduled for Nov. 27.
With the surveys headed to print in June, Furman noted the government has every incentive to try to run out the clock.
“Defendants’ motion makes so little sense, even on its own terms, that it is hard to understand as anything but an attempt to avoid a timely decision on the merits altogether,” he wrote.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.