by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director
A recent court filing has brought to light two startling facts: first, that the original idea for the citizenship question on the 2020 census came from Kris Kobach and Steve Bannon, and second, that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied about this to Congress.
Here’s the background: The Trump Administration’s push to require a citizenship question on the 2020 census is highly discriminatory. It would lead to an undercount of immigrant communities, as many people would be afraid to answer that question and would choose not to participate in the census. This would “yield a grossly inaccurate census, which would violate the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that the census provide an accurate account of all persons,” as the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign wrote during the public comment period in August. And as the Brennan Center notes, “An undercount of these communities would seriously and unfairly skew the distribution of political power and funding at the federal, state, and local levels.”
The Commerce Department, which runs the census, has been at the center of the controversy over the citizenship question, and Democrats in Congress grilled Secretary Ross about it back in March.
Rep. Grace Meng of New York asked him: “Has the President or anyone in the White House discussed with you or anyone on your team about adding this citizenship question?”
Ross responded: “I’m not aware of any such.”
At another hearing two days later, he testified: “The Department of Justice, as you know, initiated the request for inclusion of the citizenship question.”
Turns out, both of those statements were false.
The Justice Department itself acknowledged in a court filing last week that “Secretary Ross recalls that Steven Bannon called Secretary Ross in the Spring of 2017 to ask Secretary Ross if he would be willing to speak to then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about Secretary Kobach’s ideas about a possible citizenship question on the decennial census. .. In addition, Secretary Ross discussed the possible reinstatement of a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census with Attorney General Sessions in the Spring of 2017 and at subsequent times.”
(Kobach, who has made his career out of his hostility to immigration, was later appointed to head Trump’s short-lived commission on voter fraud.)
Several civil rights groups, cities, and states have filed suits against the Commerce Department over this issue, and they are seeking to require Ross to testify, which lower courts approved. But the Justice Department has appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent that from happening, along with other efforts at discovery.
Whichever way the Supreme Court rules on this, two things are certain: first, the move to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census was obscenely political, and second, Secretary Ross has a lot of explaining to do.