Lawmakers are investigating whether the attempt to include the citizenship question was a political maneuver designed to scare immigrants and minorities out of completing the 2020 survey, undercutting Democratic districts and giving an electoral advantage to Republicans and whites.
Ross testified in 2018 that the DOJ had requested the query to aid in the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. But the Supreme Court in June of this year called that rationale “contrived” and froze the plans, prompting the administration to scuttle the entire effort soon after.
In the time since the Supreme Court’s ruling, neither Ross nor Barr have complied with the committee’s demands for documents, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“Attorney General Barr and Commerce Secretary Ross have doubled down on their open defiance of the rule of law and refused to produce even a single additional document in response to our Committee’s bipartisan subpoenas,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman.
The late congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, as the committee’s chairman, had been leading the charge in the probe until his death in October. Maloney, who was elected chairwoman last week, said Cummings “believed with all his heart that the Constitution requires Congress to ensure that the rapidly approaching Census is conducted in a professional manner that promotes accuracy, ensures integrity, and is free from partisan politics.”
The committee is seeking unredacted materials involving “key developments” in the crafting of the citizenship question, as well as unredacted communications between the Justice Department and the Commerce Department. Lawmakers said they need the materials for oversight purposes and to determine whether Congress should pass legislation to safeguard the census process. The lawsuit asks for a court order forcing the administration to obey the subpoenas.
“Every day that the Committee is deprived of information necessary to identify and redress Executive Branch maladministration,” the lawsuit reads, “and every day its constitutional functions are impeded, the Committee is substantially and immediately injured in ways that no later remedy could repair.”
A Commerce Department spokesman said Tuesday that the department has cooperated in good faith with the committee, making more than 2,000 documents available to lawmakers and allowing current and former officials to sit for transcribed interviews.
“This lawsuit, fueled by overzealous Oversight Democrats, lacks merit,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a related case, a left-leaning advocacy group and a small city in Upstate New York filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the administration of sabotaging the 2020 Census by slashing resources for crucial programs related to the survey.
The Center for Popular Democracy and the city of Newburgh alleged that the Commerce Department was planning “especially irrational” cuts to its programs for counting ethnic minorities. Such cuts, the plaintiffs said, will result in a “massive and differential undercount of communities of color.”
“These decisions are not supported by reason,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, is the latest example of minority and immigrant advocates expressing concern that the census as it is being planned will undercount those groups, leading to less representation and funding for them.
The litigation mirrors a similar case filed last year by the NAACP alleging that the government’s preparation for the 2020 count was “conspicuously deficient” and could lead to a dramatic undercount of African American and Hispanic populations. The case reached a partial settlement in February.
The plaintiffs in the New York lawsuit said the government’s plans for the 2020 Census “drastically and arbitrarily” reduce the number of census enumerators from the number deployed in 2010, when the U.S. population was smaller and trust in government was higher. Advertising, outreach and community partnership programs will also be substantially reduced, according to the lawsuit.
The effects of the cutbacks will fall particularly hard on places like New York and Newburgh, which are home to large “hard-to-count” populations, including blacks, Hispanics, nonnative English speakers and young people, the plaintiffs said.
“Differential undercounts in these communities will dilute the political representation of racial and ethnic minorities and deprive them of critical federal funds,” the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit accuses the administration of violating the Constitution and federal law prohibiting the government from making arbitrary policy decisions.
A Commerce Department spokesman declined to comment on the case.