Leading civil rights organizations and good government groups are pressing U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to reject a surprise request from the U.S. Department of Justice to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. In a letter to Secretary Ross, the 170 signatories — which include the Brennan Center for Justice —detailed the serious practical problems with adding a citizenship question, including upending years of census design and testing, increasing the cost of the census by billions of dollars, and potentially depressing participation.
In addition, the letter rejected the Justice Department’s contentions that a citizenship question was legally necessary. The letter said the Justice Department was simply wrong when it claimed that citizenship information drawn from every individual in the country was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act. As the letter pointed out, the Justice Department has consistently used census data to enforce the VRA, even though no citizenship questions have appeared on the census forms sent to all households since the VRA was enacted in 1965. Under these circumstances, “the entire justification for the [Department of Justice’s] request should be viewed skeptically as an attempt to throw a wrench into final planning and preparations for an enumeration that already faces enormous challenges.”
As the March 31 deadline for adding questions to the 2020 Census draws closer, other prominent groups are joining the push against the citizenship question, with a coalition of mayors and a group of state attorneys general issuing letters of their own that echo the alliance’s call.