Emails Show Request for Citizenship Question Came from Commerce, not DOJ


CLC has received responsive documents from the Department of Justice (DOJ) containing a series of email conversations about the request to add a controversial citizenship question to the census between John Gore, the acting head of DOJ’s civil rights division, and Arthur Gary, General Counsel in the Justice Management Division. Importantly, the conversations date back to September 2017. The substance of the emails further demonstrate that the request to add the question came from Commerce, not the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, as Secretary Ross initially claimed. Secretary Ross has now admitted that he initiated the request. The DOJ’s response, which includes no documents from the Voting Rights Division, also shows that there was no meaningful input solicited from the nonpolitical career employees at DOJ tasked with defending voting rights. The documents may be useful in Gore's upcoming deposition, which a circuit court approved earlier last week. 

In addition to the document release, DOJ filed its motion for summary judgment in our case, titled CLC v. DOJ (Census FOIA) yesterday. But DOJ is not entitled to summary judgment. It did the bare minimum in response to our FOIA request and failed to use the requested, and more comprehensive, search terms. CLC will file its response – seeking a more comprehensive response – later this month.

Importance of an Accurate Census Count

The census is a tally of all people living in the United States, and it is used to determine where congressional, state, and legislative lines must be drawn, since districts must have roughly equal populations to have equal representation in government. It is important that it be accurate and include all people – regardless of citizenship status – because the Census Bureau’s 2020 count will affect every level of government. CLC asked for the release of these documents because Americans deserve to understand DOJ’s involvement – or lack of involvement – in this political maneuver, which will lead to systemic undercounting of minority populations.

Census Bureau research suggests asking about citizenship status in the current political climate could discourage households with noncitizens from participating in the 2020 census. Adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census could have a detrimental effect on the accuracy of the data we rely on to structure our democracy.