A federal judge in Washington on Friday refused to delay a lawsuit that would compel Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to comply with congressional subpoenas involving the 2020 census.
U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss instead set an expedited schedule at a hearing for the suit, denying an administration request that the suit be delayed.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee subpoenaed documents from the two Cabinet members as part of an inquiry to determine whether legislation is needed to protect the integrity of the census.
“I think it’s important to get going with the process,” Moss said.
The once-a-decade headcount is scheduled to begin in April.
The lawsuit accuses Ross of lying to Congress, misrepresenting the reasons for a proposed citizenship question and a “false narrative when his actions were challenged in federal court.”
The committee decided to investigate whether legislation is necessary to protect the census from political interference after the Supreme Court prevented the administration from including a citizenship question – something that has not been asked since 1950.
“Several points, considered together, reveal a significant mismatch between the decision [Ross] made and the rationale he provided,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
Barr and Ross already have been held in contempt of Congress.
“We feel that we are frankly in a dire emergency,” House general counsel Douglas Letter told the judge. “We have a situation where we are up against extremely suspicious circumstances.”
Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Shapiro told Moss the administration stopped negotiating over the documents after President Trump asserted executive privilege.
Moss expressed surprise when Shapiro indicated the administration had yet to review the subpoenaed documents and would need more time.
“That should occur before documents are withheld from Congress,” Moss said.
The administration sought to put the case on hold until an appellate court can rule on whether former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn needs to testify before the Oversight Committee about the Mueller report. Letter noted that would push the case past the April 1 census start.
“The census will be over by the time all these things happen,” Letter said. “We can’t have that.”