On Friday one of the three district court judges, Maryland-based U.S. District Judge George Hazel, ordered the start of discovery, a chance for both parties to seek out related evidence in the case.
Civil rights groups say they plan to use that opportunity to pry into communications between the White House and the Commerce Department and Justice Department officials involved in ordering the new query. They may also seek more details on Trump’s own involvement. That will likely trigger renewed legal battles over executive privilege and the confidentiality of White House interactions.
The district court judges will need to be convinced that whatever new rationale the DOJ lawyers produce for adding the census question isn’t undermined by earlier evidence that, among other things, suggested a deceased Republican redistricting strategist, Thomas Hofeller, sought to ask about citizenship to create an electoral advantage for Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.
Hazel previously ruled that only Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s intent was relevant to the legal issues in the case. But with the litigation now focused on issues of intentional discrimination and a conspiracy to deprive Latinos of their civil rights, the plaintiffs are planning a broader effort to turn up evidence that could be problematic for the administration.
“A civil conspiracy claim is what makes the intent of a larger number of people relevant,“ said Denise Hulett of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents plaintiffs in the two related cases before Hazel. “We think that’s going to come into play even more than it did before because it’s clear a large group of people were involved in the decision.”