Federal judge demands Trump officials promise in writing that the Census won't ask citizenship — or else
President Donald Trump pulled back at the last minute from bombing Iran because he didn't want so many casualties. (AFP/File / MANDEL NGAN)

On Wednesday, a federal judge demanded that President Donald Trump's administration enter into a written agreement that they are not, in fact, planning to put citizenship on the 2020 Census, as previously agreed — or else he will allow civil rights organizations to pursue allegations of discrimination and conspiracy against the administration.

NPR correspondent Hansi Lo Wang reported on Wednesday afternoon that District Judge George Hazel of Maryland has given the administration a deadline of 2pm ET on Friday:

Separately, District Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York has ordered the administration to clarify their position on the citizenship question no later than 6pm ET tonight.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department conceded in court that they would be printing census forms without the citizenship question, following the Supreme Court's decision to suspend the question and send the case back to lower court for further review — a move that all but ensured there was no time to reinstate the question before the census begins. But on Wednesday, Trump threw a monkey wrench into the process, tweeting that reports of his administration backing down on the citizenship question are "FAKE!" Officials subsequently told Judge Hazel that they had been "ordered" to continue litigation.

"As you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on," said DOJ attorney Joshua Gardner to Judge Hazel.

The census, conducted every ten years, is a massively important, constitutionally mandated count of the population that determines everything from how many congressional districts each state has, to how federal funding for roads, schools, hospitals, and businesses are allocated. Trump officials initially claimed that adding a question about citizenship was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, but subsequent evidence suggested that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and right-wing activists designed the question to depress response rates in heavily Democratic and racially diverse parts of the country.

The Supreme Court initially appeared set to greenlight the citizenship question, but subsequent revelations about explicitly racist intent behind the question, including from a dead GOP redistricting expert's laptop, persuaded Chief Justice John Roberts to put the brakes on the scheme.