In March, the Department of Justice petitioned Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross for the addition of a question regarding citizenship to be added to the 2020 census forms. Their claim was that it needs a better count of voting-age citizens from the census in order to enforce protections against voting discrimination under the Voting Rights Act. This is such a thin veil of hypocrisy that almost nobody believed their justification, certainly not civil rights groups who understand the potential effects of such an action.
Frankly, it boils down to one simple question: Do you trust your government to use this information only for the stated purposes? My answer is “No, I absolutely do not!”
The very phrase “to enforce protections against voting discrimination under the Voting Rights Act” sets off red flags and loud alarms. It flies in the face of logic, considering that in 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5, a key part of that very same Voting Rights Act and subsequently gerrymandering and other forms of disenfranchisement have expanded significantly. So no, I don’t think our government is particularly concerned about protecting the voting rights of minority groups.
As it happens, the Justice Department’s request to Wilbur Ross was actually initiated by none other than Wilbur Ross himself! Months before the Justice Department submitted the formal request, Ross sent the following email to Commerce Department official, Earl Comstock:
“Where is the DoJ in their analysis ? If they still have not come to a conclusion please let me know your contact person and I will call the AG.”
“We need to work with Justice to get them to request that citizenship be added back as a census question.”
Ross followed up with Peter Davidson, the general counsel for the Commerce Department, about three months later …
“Census is about to begin translating the questions into multiple languages and has let the printing contact. We are out of time. Please set up a call for me tomorrow with whoever is the responsible person at Justice. We must have this resolved. WLR”
Now, an inquiring mind wants to know … why was Ross so determined to have the citizenship question on the 2020 census form? Ross has testified in Congress that the Justice Department “initiated” the request for the question in December 2017, but these emails suggest otherwise.
New York state is leading a group of *18 states, 10 cities, four counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors in a lawsuit against the Census Bureau and Commerce Department to try to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 census questionnaire. The last time a citizenship question was asked on the standard U.S. Census form was 68 years ago, in 1950, although Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders apparently failed that question in school, for her response to reporters was:
“This is a question that’s been included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed.”
WRONG! Back to high school civics for you, Sarah!
So what’s the big deal, you ask? Well, first off, it is likely to discourage residents who are non-citizens from filling out the census form, meaning that the census will be inaccurate, and also that areas with large immigrant populations may not get their fair share of federal funding for schools, roads, etc., as their population would be under-reported. But perhaps of equal importance goes back to that question about whether or not you trust your government, and of late ours has given us zero reasons to trust.
Although the Census Bureau is legally required to keep answers confidential, even from the FBI and other government entities (think ICE, INS, CBP), in this, the reign of Trump, the administration and its agencies do whatever they damn well please, largely ignoring what is proscribed by law. Trump and his minions have shown time and again that they believe they are above the law. And recently, even ‘legal’ immigrants, those with the proper paperwork, are being deported. So, imagine that you are an immigrant living and working in New York City, you work two jobs to support your family and are taking ESL classes three nights a week. Are you going to answer that question on the census form, or just not bother to send it in at all?
And what of those who do send it in, who do check that bottom box, “No, not a U.S. Citizen”? Do they wake up one morning to pounding on the door by ICE agents? Do they find themselves here today, gone tomorrow? Do they find their children taken from them and sent to detention centers?
But back to the lawsuits. The Trump administration attempted to have the suits dismissed without consideration, but judges in Maryland, California and New York have ruled that the cases have merit and can continue. In July, Manhattan Judge Jesse Furman said that the plaintiffs “plausibly allege that [Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’] decision to reinstate the citizenship question was motivated at least in part by discriminatory animus and will result in a discriminatory effect.”
Citing an email from President Trump’s reelection campaign that said Trump “officially mandated” the question, Furman said it is plausible that Trump was “personally involved in the decision.” He added that the plaintiffs’ claim that Trump administration officials were intentionally discriminating against immigrant communities of color was also plausible, pointing to the president’s comments in January about people from African nations as “people from shithole countries.”
Now, fast-forward to Friday, 28 September, and the attorneys at the Justice Department, representing the administration, are preparing to appeal recent orders by lower courts for the depositions of two key Trump administration officials behind the question: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Justice Department official John Gore. I’m smelling a rat … a very large rat.
The trial for the two New York cases is set to start on November 5th, the day before the mid-term elections, but the administration is attempting to force the case to go to the Supreme Court by blocking all remaining depositions and document requests for those two cases “pending review” by the Supreme Court. That very same Supreme Court that the republicans in the Senate are working so hard to push, cram and shove Brett Kavanaugh onto before … November. Now do you smell the rat?* For a complete list of the states, cities and counties included in the lawsuits, visit NPR