Gavel Drop: States Cry Foul About Proposed Census Citizenship Question

And in other news, did Facebook exclude women and families from seeing certain types of housing ads? Advocates say yes—and that it's illegal.

[Photo: a person filling out a form with a pen]
Massachusetts and at least 11 other states announced that they would sue to block the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship status to the U.S. Census. Shutterstock

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Massachusetts and at least 11 other states announced that they would sue to block the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship status to the U.S. Census. “The census is supposed to count everyone,” said Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts. “This is a blatant and illegal attempt by the Trump administration to undermine that goal, which will result in an undercount of the population and threaten federal funding for our state and cities.”

More bad news for Facebook: A group of housing advocacy groups have sued the social media giant under the Fair Housing Act. Their claim: that Facebook’s advertising tools permit marketers to discriminate based on gender and family status. Women and families with kids were precluded from seeing certain housing ads.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a Maryland case about partisan gerrymandering last Wednesday. This comes on the heels of the high court’s consideration of a case about partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin, Gill v. Whitford. In considering Maryland’s voting maps, many of the justices agreed that gerrymandering is a problem, but can’t seem to agree on whether it’s a problem that courts can address.

The Court also threw a wrench into Arizona’s plan to stop immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy from obtaining driver’s licenses. Arizona was complaining the policy was necessary to stop immigrants from using licenses to access public benefits to which they are not entitled. The Court declined to hear the case in mid-March, leaving in place a lower court ruling that allows Dreamers in Arizona to obtain driver’s licenses.

Two class-action lawsuits regarding contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, will proceed. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Flint residents could pursue their civil rights claims against local and state officials. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Michigan officials’ appeal, maintaining a July 2017 lower court ruling.

An Oregon judge who has refused to marry same-sex couples has been suspended for three years without pay. The state’s Supreme Court said that Marion County Circuit Judge Vance Day’s multiple acts of misconduct warranted imposition of “one of the most significant sanctions that this court has imposed in a judicial fitness proceeding.” Day told his staff to screen couples who wished to be married; if they were same-sex, the engaged people would be told he was “unavailable.” He literally had no time for LGBTQ folks.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and Color of Change have sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They demand that the agency release an unredacted copy of its “Race Paper,” which advocates are concerned is being used to target Black activists and organizers around the nation. Color of Change’s president, Rashad Robinson, noted that “The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are at war with Black activists.”

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a prominent progressive judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. His death leaves a vacancy on the court, and President Trump gets to fill it. We can be certain Trump’s pick won’t fill Reinhardt’s liberal shoes.

Arkansas is asking its state supreme court to order a lower court judge to issue a ruling on an Arkansas voter’s lawsuit challenging the state’s voter ID law. The lower court judge said she would rule “several days before” April 6, but the state says it needs more time to prepare for the upcoming May 22 primary. 

The DOJ is continuing to bleed staff members. Diana Flynn, who has been the chief of the Civil Rights Division Appellate section since the 1980s, announced that she is leaving her job to become the litigation director for Lambda Legal, the country’s largest legal organization for LGBTQ rights. She is the latest of several DOJ veterans to leave the agency now that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is at the helm, according to Buzzfeed.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens shared his thoughts about the Second Amendment in the New York Times. Spoiler: He says the amendment should be repealed.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that blocked his state from banning reimbursement of Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood. Medicaid funds can’t be used for abortion services except in rare cases (even though this still discriminates against poor people in the delivery of health-care services), but that doesn’t matter when it comes to the GOP’s incessant efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.