DOJ Attempts to Play Politics with Census Citizenship Question

August 13, 2018
Issues

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) request to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census is an attempt to play politics with an important constitutional obligation that affects everyone living in the United States. In its rushed request DOJ claimed that the question was necessary to protect the voting rights of minority communities. However, by the Census Bureau’s own determinations, minority groups and foreign-born populations are more likely to be undercounted than other populations. A dramatic undercount of immigrant communities would undermine minority voting protections across the country, as well as skew results for the rest of the country.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) signed on to a letter urging Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to reject this irresponsible request. As stated in the letter, the Constitution requires an “actual enumeration” of all of the people in the United States, irrespective of immigration status or any other characteristic. A citizenship question would work to undermine this constitutional function by deterring participation among immigrant communities. This is particularly true in the current climate of fear around immigration issues. The Census Bureau itself has already recorded “an unprecedented groundswell in confidentiality and data sharing concerns, particularly among immigrants or those who live with immigrants.” Adding a citizenship question would undeniably exacerbate these concerns.

The process behind this DOJ request demonstrates its political motivation. Although the original letter making the request was signed by a career official in the Justice Management Division, documents revealed by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)  request from ProPublica show that it was actually drafted by John Gore, Trump’s political appointee to the Civil Rights Division. John Gore’s failure to sign the letter suggests a heavy-handed attempt to hide the political motives behind this request.

Now, the Civil Rights Division — the section of the DOJ that drafted the requested — is refusing to disclose any records related to their conclusion that a census citizenship question is necessary to protect voting rights. On February 1, CLC sent DOJ a FOIA requesting documents leading up to the decision to ask for this question. On February 28, the DOJ summarily denied our request, claiming privilege for every document related to the citizenship question.

The lack of transparency and blatant attempt to mislead the public suggests politics over policy in this request. We urge Secretary Ross to uphold his constitutional duty to protect the accuracy of the Census — which is important to all of us — and reject the citizenship question that all experts agree will skew our data on the republic for a decade.