NEW YORK, Jan 15 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday invalidated the Trump administration's addition of a U.S. citizenship question to the 2020 census, the first ruling in a handful of lawsuits that claim the query will hurt immigrants.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross concealed his true motives in adding the question last March.
Ross had said the question - which has not appeared on the decennial census since 1950 - was necessary to enforce federal laws protecting eligible voters.
Furman's decision will almost certainly be appealed, and could wind up before the Supreme Court this year.
The plaintiffs - 18 U.S. states, 15 cities and various civil rights groups - said that asking census respondents whether they are U.S. citizens will frighten immigrants and Latinos into abstaining from the count.
That could cost their mostly Democratic-leaning communities representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as their share of some $800 billion a year in federal funding.
The plaintiffs alleged that was Ross' plan all along, while he insisted the government needed citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects eligible voters from discrimination. Only American citizens can vote in federal elections.
Dale Ho, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the plaintiffs' case, called Furman's ruling "a forceful rebuke of the Trump administration's attempt to weaponize the census."
Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the administration was "disappointed," adding that the "government is legally entitled to include a citizenship question on the census, and people in the United States have a legal obligation to answer."
In a 277-page opinion, Furman called Ross' Voting Rights Act rationale "pretextual."