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DOJ: Commerce chief spoke with Bannon, Sessions about census citizenship question

DOJ: Commerce chief spoke with Bannon, Sessions about census citizenship question
© Anna Moneymaker

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a new court filing Thursday that Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossSessions attacks judge who ordered officials to sit for depositions in challenges to Census citizenship question Harris accuses GOP of ‘weaponizing’ 2020 Census DOJ: Commerce chief spoke with Bannon, Sessions about census citizenship question MORE talked with Stephen Bannon, then President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE’s chief White House strategist, and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRosenstein to appear for House interview next week Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure McGahn departs as White House counsel MORE about adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census.

In the filing obtained by The Hill, DOJ said Ross recalls Bannon calling him in the spring of 2017 to ask if he would be willing to speak to then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about Kobach’s idea of adding the potential question to the upcoming census.

The document is a response to written questions from the New York Attorney General in the discovery phase of a lawsuit New York and 16 other blue-leaning states have brought challenging the administration’s decision to ask about citizenship.

The lawsuit has been consolidated with another challenge from a coalition of immigration groups.

In August Judge Jesse Furman, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered Ross and John Gore, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, to sit for depositions in the case so the challengers could learn more about how the administration made its decision and who was involved.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Tuesday granted a request from Solicitor General Noel Francisco to put the depositions on hold after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals refused to do so. Ginsburg last week had denied a similar request from the administration to block the depositions befe the Second Circuit had ruled on the request.

In the document Thursday, DOJ said Ross additionally discussed the possible reinstatement of a citizenship question on the 2020 census with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the spring of 2017. 

The Commerce Department announced in March it would be adding the citizenship question to help DOJ better enforce the Voting Rights Act. ProPublica reported in December that DOJ had asked for it to be included. 

In a statement a Commerce Department spokesperson said “today’s response supplements the record but does not change the secretary’s story, it only adds to it.”

In the lawsuits, states and outside groups, argue the citizenship question will scare people in immigrant communities away from responding to the census given Sessions' crackdown on illegal immigration.

They fear the question will lead to skewed census results. Resident figures from the census are used to determine the number of seats in the House each state receives, which in part determine the number of electoral votes states have in a presidential election.

-- Updated: 6:42 p.m.