Skip Navigation
Analysis

Civil Rights Groups Oppose Citizenship Question in 2020 Census

170 civil rights and good government groups warn that citizenship question could upend census.

February 14, 2018

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. 

Civil Rights Groups Letter by The Bren­nan Center for Justice on Scribd

(Photo: Getty)