Commerce's Ross insists census citizenship question supports Voting Rights Act

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appears before the House Oversight and Reform Committee

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross defended his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2o20 census, telling lawmakers on Thursday that he acted exclusively at the request of the Justice Department to enhance the Voting Rights Act, denying it was meant to influence the allocation of congressional seats across the country.

Ross doubled down on his statement that his motivations to push a citizenship question in the census were only based on a request from the justice department. He threatened to subpoena requested documents if they aren't supplied in the next week.

In his opinion on the citizenship question lawsuits based in NY, however, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman concluded that reasoning was a "sham justification."The judge cited internal documents showing that Ross pressured Commerce Department staff to ask the Justice Department to submit a formal request for the question".

Ross announced his decision to add the citizenship question about a week after the 2018 hearing, and over the ensuing year, the decision and rationale have been challenged in court and debated by politicians.

Census results are used to apportion congressional seats and federal funding across the United States and thus are key to the balance of power.

Earlier this month, a California federal judge again blocked the question from inclusion, going further than Furman by stating that it violates administrative law and is unconstitutional. A federal judge in NY had previously blocked the administration from adding the question to the population count that occurs every 10 years, and the Supreme Court last month agreed to review that decision.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies before a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on oversight of the Commerce Department, in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2019.

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MI) told Commerce Sec.

Clay said Ross failed to mention the memo when previously testifying to Congress.

After acknowledging that he was "a great admirer" of Jefferson and noting that a citizenship question had been included on the Census "in one form or another" since the 1800s, Ross came under fire for the comparison by Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands).

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"You lied to Congress, you misled the American people and you are complicit in the Trump administration's intent to suppress the growing political power of the non-white population", Clay said.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference Education Fund, said in a statement that at Thursday's hearing, Ross continued "his trend of providing deceptive explanations for his harmful decision".

In the main decennial census, the government has not asked about citizenship since 1950, although the question is included on smaller survey's on a fraction of USA populace.

"I do not know anyone who truly believes the Trump administration is interested in enhancing the Voting Rights Act", said Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

In return, Cummings said, "We expected you to answer all our questions" related to the citizenship question.

Ross said he did not believe such a message was delivered, but if there was a document of that sort he wanted the chance to review it.

The question asks is: "Is this person a citizen of the United States?"

Ross sought to emphasize that the Trump administration has boosted spending for the census and that it was using the money to increase its advertising budget and hire more community partners. "So, I'm not sure if Thomas Jefferson should be the litmus test for what we should be doing for counting Census".

Republicans said it was completely appropriate to add the citizenship question to the census. Litigation around the question later produced emails showing that Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, had been pushing for the question for months before that. "But for some reason, they are focused on this question".

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