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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Photo: Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s plan to ask about citizenship status during the 2020 census are being allowed by federal judges to move forward, dealing a blow to the federal government.

Why it matters: As the suits to remove the question make their way through courts in New York, Maryland and California, they could complicate preparation for the United States' constitutionally-mandated nationwide decennial count.

The key arguments: The Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, said that reinstating the question, which hasn’t been asked on the nation's standard census form since 1950, would provide better citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act against racial discrimination.

  • But critics described the administration’s move as a ploy that would discourage non-citizens from responding, pointing to President Trump’s anti-immigration sentiments and policies. A less accurate count, they added, would affect apportioned seats in the House and and could skew the distribution of federal funding and other grants.

The backdrop: Government emails and memos disclosed as part of one of the ongoing suits in New York revealed glaring contradicting accounts of initial statements made by officials on how they reached the decision to include the question.

  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross delivered sworn testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee in March, telling lawmakers that the request for the question was initiated by the Justice Department in December 2017.
  • But the recent disclosure of internal records shows that senior administration officials, including former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, had begun pushing for the question just months after taking office.
Where the cases now stand

New York: U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman cleared the way for two related suits to move forward in July with a potential trial that could begin in October. He rejected the government's argument that the court lacks jurisdiction on the census issue, writing that there’s evidence the administration acted in "bad faith."

  • One of the suits was filed in April by dozens of localities. In June, advocacy groups, including the New York Immigration Coalition, filed another challenge.

California: A San Francisco federal court judge last week rejected the federal government’s dismissal motions against two related lawsuits. A potential trial there would begin in January.

  • California was the first state to challenge the administration’s decision. Four other cities in the state later joined. The other suit is led by the D.C-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of the City of San Jose, California and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

Maryland: U.S. District Judge George Hazel, who allowed a suit to proceed this week, has not issued a timeline for when it will be argued in court.

  • The plaintiffs — individuals from Maryland, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Nevada — are being represented the law firm of former Attorney General Eric Holder.
  • Meanwhile, Hazel has given the government by the end of this week to file a motion to dismiss a similar suit led by a Texas-based group.

Go deeper

Axios-Ipsos poll: People of color face more environmental threats

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±2.5% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans of color are much less likely than white Americans to experience good air quality or tap water or enough trees or green space in their communities, and they're more likely to face noise pollution and litter, a new Axios-Ipsos poll finds.

The big picture: Our national survey shows Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to live near major highways or industrial or manufacturing plants — and to have dealt in the past year with water-boil notices or power outages lasting more than 24 hours.

15 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

16 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."