Newly sworn in Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh may face his first politically charged case after a federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to be deposed about putting a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said Ross can be deposed by lawyers who claim he and others acted improperly. It gave the government two days to appeal to the high court.
However, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a temporary stay on late Tuesday pending a response due on or before 4 p.m. Thursday. The stay puts a temporary hold on Ross' deposition and one scheduled for John Gore, acting assistant attorney general.
A three-judge panel in Manhattan said a lower-court judge, Jesse M. Furman, made detailed factual findings supporting his conclusion that Ross likely possesses firsthand knowledge central to the claims.
It also noted that three of Ross's aides indicated only the secretary himself could answer certain questions.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The appeals court order came after a dozen states and big cities sued, saying that Ross acted improperly. They claim the citizenship question will discourage immigrants from participating, diluting political representation and federal dollars for states that tend to vote Democratic.
When Furman ruled last month, he said the deposition must be limited to four hours.
He said it was necessary for Ross to answer questions because he was "personally and directly involved in the decision, and the unusual process leading to it, to an unusual degree."
The judge noted that Ross claimed in March when the decision to add the citizenship question was announced that he considered adding it after a request to do so last December from the Justice Department.
"The record developed thus far, however, casts grave doubt on those claims," the judge wrote.
"There is something surprising, if not unsettling, about defendants' aggressive efforts to shield Secretary Ross from having to answer questions about his conduct in adding the citizenship question to the census questionnaire," Furman said.
Furman scheduled a trial for Nov. 5.