The Commerce Department said Monday evening that the 2020 census will include a question on citizenship, despite the strong objections of Democrats.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHouse panel, Commerce Department reach agreement on census documents China sanctions Wilbur Ross, others after US warns of doing business in Hong Kong DOJ won't prosecute Wilbur Ross after watchdog found he gave false testimony MORE announced his decision to reinstate the citizenship question in a post on the department's website. The citizenship question has not appeared on the census since 1950, but Ross argued that collecting citizenship data has been “a long-standing historical practice."
The Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE has reportedly pushed for inclusion of the question, arguing that it would allow the department to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.
"For the approximately 90 percent of the population who are citizens, this question is no additional imposition," Ross wrote in his memo. "And for the approximately 70 percent of non-citizens who already answer this question accurately on the [American Community Survey], the question is no additional imposition."
Census data is used to redraw House districts and the number of House seats each state receives, as well as determining each state’s number of electoral votes in a presidential election.
Democrats have raised concerns that adding the question would result in an inaccurate population count because it would discourage some immigrants from filling out the questionnaire given the Trump administration's crackdown on those in the country illegally.
Ross responded to such concerns in his decision, saying the need for accurate data and the limited burden of adding it to the census "outweigh fears about potentially lower response rate."
"The citizenship data provided to DOJ will be more accurate with the question than without it, which is of greater importance than any adverse effect that may result from people violating their legal duty to respond," Ross wrote.
Announcements of legal challenges to the Commerce Department move followed swiftly.
California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraBipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy Bottom line Overnight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all MORE (D) tweeted he would be "filing suit" against the "illegal" policy change.
#BREAKING: Filing suit against @realdonaldtrump's Administration over decision to add #citizenship question on #2020Census. Including the question is not just a bad idea — it is illegal: https://t.co/vW8sa7khq9— Xavier Becerra (@AGBecerra) March 27, 2018
Becerra was one of 17 Democratic state attorneys general who wrote Ross a letter last month warning him against including the citizenship question. Doing so, they argued, would be unconstitutional.
“Including a question on the 2020 Census that would manipulate the count by scaring people away from being counted — causing grave harm to the states and our residents — is inconsistent with those obligations,” the attorneys general wrote at the time.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law issued a statement Monday night sharply condemning the announcement. The group called the inclusion of a citizenship question “a clear attempt to politicize the process” and warned it would discourage minority communities from participating.
“This decision comes at a time when we have seen xenophobic and anti-immigrant policy positions from this administration,” organization president Kristen Clarke said in a statement. “This is an arbitrary and untested decision that all but guarantees that the Census will not produce a full and accurate count of the population as the Constitution requires.”
But at least one GOP lawmaker offered full-throated praise on Twitter for the 2020 census announcement:
#CitizenshipMatters Apportionment for Congressional seats and electoral votes should be based on citizens, not on residents. Otherwise citizens are underrepresented... For example, California gets roughly three extra members of Congress based on estimates of illegal residents. https://t.co/Acq02zM4Ev— Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonWatchdog: 7 members of Congress allegedly failed to disclose stock trades On The Money — Yellen sounds alarm on national default GOP lawmakers urge Cardona against executive student loan wipeout MORE (@WarrenDavidson) March 27, 2018
By law, the U.S. Census Bureau has to provide Congress with the final wording of the census questionnaire by March 31, this Saturday.
Updated at 11:02 p.m.