According to an investigative report released Wednesday by a congressional oversight committee, Trump officials attempted to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The report offers something of a smoking gun — a secret memo the committee obtained after a two-year legal battle showing that a senior Trump appointee in the Commerce Department explored the apportionment as a reason for including the issue.
“The Committee’s investigation revealed how a group of political appointees sought to use the census to advance an ideological agenda and potentially exclude non-citizens from the distribution count,” says the report released by the Committee on House on Oversight and Reform.
It has long been speculated that the Trump administration wanted the citizenship issue in order to illegally exclude people in the country from apportionment numbers.
The report includes several drafts showing how the memo evolved from acknowledging that it would likely be unconstitutional to offering other justifications for adding the citizenship question.
The allocation process uses state population figures collected in the census once a decade to distribute the number of congressional seats each state gets.
Opponents worried that a citizenship question would deter Hispanics and immigrants from participating in the 2020 census, whether or not they are legally in the country. The citizenship issue was blocked by the Supreme Court in 2019. In the High Court ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts said the reason the Commerce Department gave for the citizenship issue – it was necessary for the Department of Justice’s enforcement of the Voting Rights Act – appeared to be arranged.
The Commerce Department oversees the Census Bureau, which conducts the tally used to determine political power and the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding each year. Then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testified before the oversight committee that apportionment was not the reason for the citizenship issue, even though the Commerce Department memo suggests otherwise, the report says. from the room.
“I have never intentionally misled Congress or intentionally said anything incorrect under oath,” Ross said during a 2019 hearing before the oversight committee.
According to the House committee report, while planning the citizenship issue, a Commerce Department adviser contacted a Republican redistricting expert who wrote that using the voting-age citizen population instead of total population for the purpose of redrawing Congress and legislative districts could benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.
The August 2017 memo prepared by James Uthmeier, a senior Commerce Department policy official, went to the heart of interactions between the Commerce Department and the Department of Justice to find an artificial reason for the citizenship issue, according to the House report.
An early draft of the memo raised doubts about the legality of a citizenship question, as it can only be added to the census once a decade if the Secretary of Commerce concludes that collecting this information in survey sampling is not possible. But a later draft removed that concern and added that the Commerce Secretary had the discretion to add a citizenship question for reasons other than apportionment.
An even later draft removed repartition as an exception to the Secretary of Commerce’s discretion and added “there is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about adding a question of citizenship”.
An early draft of the memo also noted that the use of citizenship data for the breakdown was likely unconstitutional and against 200 years of precedent, but that wording was also removed in later drafts.
The House report says Uthmeier researched the application of the Voting Rights Act as a reason for the citizenship question three months before the Justice Department requested it, and questioned hand his memo with this suggestion to the Department of Justice in order to avoid a digital fingerprint.
Uthmeier, who now works as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ chief of staff, did not immediately respond to an email request on Wednesday.
In an effort to prevent future attempts to politicize the census, members of the oversight committee planned on Wednesday to debate a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, DN.Y., that would require new questions for the tally be reviewed by Congress and prohibit a Census Bureau director from being fired without cause.
The Trump administration has appointed an unusually large number of politicians with no previous experience in the statistical agency to senior positions in the Census Bureau. The legislation would limit the number of political appointments to three, with all other positions filled by career civil servants.
Even though many of the Trump administration’s policy efforts ultimately failed, some supporters believe they had an impact, resulting in a much larger undercount of most racial and ethnic minorities in the 2020 census compared to the 2010 census.
“It is clear that legislative reforms are needed to prevent any future illegal or unconstitutional efforts from interfering with the census and undermining our democracy,” said Maloney, who chairs the oversight committee.
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