Judge Hazel had ruled in April that Mr. Ross’s actions violated the Constitution’s requirements for the census and federal rule-making guidelines. But he said that the plaintiffs in the Maryland lawsuit had failed to prove a third contention — that the citizenship question was a deliberate effort by Mr. Ross to discriminate against Hispanics for political gain, violating their civil rights and the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee.
In an opinion issued on Monday, the judge wrote that the Hofeller documents were reason enough to take a second look at that issue.
“It is becoming difficult to avoid seeing that which is increasingly clear,” he wrote. “As more puzzle pieces are placed on the mat, a disturbing picture of the decision makers’ motives takes shape.”
Although the census lawsuit before the Supreme Court is a different case that originated in Manhattan, it includes the same issues that Judge Hazel considered. But the question of discrimination is at issue only in the Maryland lawsuit, which is why the fate of the citizenship question appears to rest on its resolution — and on the July 1 printing deadline.
In papers filed in the Supreme Court last week, the Justice Department took issue with the Census Bureau’s contention that it needed to start printing forms next month, saying the agency could wait as late as Oct. 31 to begin the work. But experts say the printing work is so vast — more than a billion pieces of paper — and such a logistical tangle that the bureau’s ability to put off its start is measured in weeks, not months.
Some of the census forms require high-quality printing equipment that is not commonly available; in 2010, the bureau had to use virtually every such printer in the nation to complete its work. Nor is rescheduling the work a simple matter, because printing companies have contracts to serve other customers that have been scheduled for times when census forms are not being printed.
Nor does the bureau have any give in its own schedule. The first census forms must be distributed in Alaska in January, and by law, the count must be complete by Dec. 31 of next year.
“It’s not like the Census Bureau can demand things at the drop of a hat,” said one former senior official at the bureau, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of an advising relationship with the agency. “You’d really be putting the operational plan at great risk if this stretches into mid-August. You may not have a census at all in 2020.”