Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appears to have misled Congress when he testified that the Justice Department had "initiated" including a question about U.S. citizenship on the U.S. census, according to newly unredacted documents released Monday as part of a lawsuit. Ross said in March that the Justice Department had pushed for the citizenship question, which hasn't been included in the census since 1950, so it could enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The new documents add to the evidence that Ross was the driving force.
In a September 2017 email to Ross, Commerce official Earl Comstock said he had approached the Justice Department in May to "discuss the citizenship question," and "Justice staff did not want to raise the question given the difficulties Justice was encountering in the press at the time (the whole Comey matter)." Comstock said he then tried the Department of Homeland Security, and they pointed him back to the Justice Department, so he asked a Commerce Department lawyer to explore "how Commerce could add the question to the census itself." A few months later, the Justice Department formally requested the citizenship question.
The Census Bureau's chief scientist, other researchers, and a bureau-sponsored marketing campaign have found that including the citizenship question depresses the participation of Latinos, Asians, and other minorities, skewing the constitutionally mandated decennial head count. Ross "personally lobbied the attorney general to submit the memorandum that the secretary 'then later relied on to justify his decision,'" plaintiffs' lawyers argued in the lawsuit, one of six around the country seeking to strike the citizenship question.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who's overseeing the lawsuit in Manhattan, had ordered the Trump administration to release the unredacted memos, saying they "go to the heart" of the central question of Ross' intent in adding the citizenship question. Furman has potentially scheduled a trial to start Nov. 5, though Justice Department lawyers are arguing against a trial and Ross deposition. Peter Weber