The Trump administration announced in a court filing Friday that it is planning to ask the Supreme Court to shield two high-ranking officials from answering questions under oath about the controversial census citizenship question.
The first official is John Gore, controversial head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, who allegedly ghostwrote a letter requesting the citizenship question to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act. Last Tuesday, a federal appeals court in Manhattan rejected the Commerce Department’s request to block Gore from sitting for questioning. The administration asked to put Gore’s testimony on hold while it appealed. However, both the trial court and a federal appeals court rejected that request, with the trial court calling it “particularly frivolous.”
The second official is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Ross has claimed that the Commerce Department decided to add the citizenship question at the request of the Justice Department, but emails and other documents that have been revealed in the litigation show that Ross and White House officials, including Steve Bannon, were considering the citizenship question long before the Justice Department got involved. Because Ross’s “intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases,” as the trial judge put it, the court said that he must sit for questioning. The appeals court has put the Ross testimony on hold through at least October 9, when it will hear arguments on the Commerce Department’s request.
The Supreme Court is the likely next stop in both of these disputes, with an appeal in the Gore dispute seemingly imminent and the Ross dispute to follow shortly thereafter. If Ross is ultimately ordered to testify, it would be the first time in 19 years that a sitting Cabinet secretary has been required to do so in a civil case. His testimony — and Gore’s — might shed some much-needed light on the Trump administration’s real motives in adding the citizenship question.
As we wait for the high court to weigh in, trial in the cases remains set for November 5 in Manhattan.