(CN) — The Trump administration cannot pause an order blocking the president’s memo excluding undocumented immigrants in determining the political heft of U.S. states in the census, a three-judge panel found in a blistering ruling Tuesday.
“In sum, defendants have not come close to carrying ‘the[ir] burden of showing that the circumstances justify an exercise’ of our discretion to grant a stay,” the 14-page ruling states in its conclusion, which describes the administration’s arguments as “frivolous.”
“They fail to show that they are likely to succeed on the merits or that a stay would be in the public interest,” the panel added.
New York Attorney General Letitia James brought the challenge with 19 other states, 10 cities and five counties after President Donald Trump signed a memorandum that would exclude undocumented immigrants from the political apportionment.
Since the U.S. Constitution mandated that the government conduct a count of its population, that number has included all “persons” within its borders, and the attorney general argued that the Trump administration’s effort to redefine that word hearkened to the slavery era.
The case originally landed in the court of U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, the same judge who rejected Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross’ plan to add a citizenship question to the census, in a ruling upheld by the Supreme Court.
Trump’s census memo did not seek to revive the question the court ruled illegal, but the administration tried to leave noncitizens out from information used to divvy up seats in Congress.
Since the Constitution mandates a three-judge panel decide all apportionment questions, two more jurists joined the case: U.S. Circuit Judges Richard Wesley and Peter Hall, who unanimously swatted down the Trump administration’s effort.
The judges held firm in that position Tuesday afternoon.
“Defendants fall well short of carrying their burden,” they wrote. “In fact, they satisfy none of the four factors relevant to the analysis.”
Trump’s interpretation of the apportionment clause appears to be unprecedented.
“By their own admission, defendants cannot cite a single example in the historical record where any branch of the government adopted the interpretation of the Constitution that they now advance,” the ruling states.
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.