2020 Census Citizenship Question

On November 27, 2018, Judge Jesse M. Furman (United States District Court for the Southern District of New York) heard closing arguments in a case that may decide whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross. Jr. has the authority to alter the Census by adding a question about citizenship.

According to email messages, internal memos, and interviews, Ross began a campaign to add the question soon after his appointment in 2017. Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach urged him multiple times to add the question.

On March 20, 2018, Ross was questioned by the members of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee in a hearing. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) asked: "Has the president or anyone in the White House discussed with you or anyone on your team about adding the citizenship question?”  Ross stated under oath that "I am not aware of any such.

Ross also claimed that the Justice Department "initiated” the addition of the question in a memo from December 2017. Documents revealed during the curent trial show that to be a lie, and he has since admitted that conversations about adding the question began shortly after Trump took office, as early as February 2017. These conversations involved Bannon, Kobach, and Jeff Sessions, among others. Current indications are that this is yet another attempt by the current administration to intimidate immigrants and minorities.

The US Justice Department, acting for Ross, sought an emergency halt to the trial. in multiple courts. Judge Furman referred to the Justice Department's claims that it would suffer harm unless he put the case on hold “makes so little sense, even on its own terms, that it is hard to understand as anything but an attempt to avoid a timely decision on the merits altogether.”

Judge Furman rejected the request, and his decision was upheld almost immediately by afederal appeals court in New York.

A decision is expected within the next few weeks.


Incorrect Census data has enormous repercussions in all areas of American life.

Multiple experts have given evidence that such a question will result in a significant undercount among minorities. Experts estimate that as many as six million households could be uncounted in the initial Census form returns if that question is included.  

Such an undercount would result in changes to apportionment of Congressional seats which could leave areas under-represented in the House, and changes in Federal funding formulas for everything from roads to schools. Businesses frequently use statistical Census data (population, age, race, etc.) when determining when to add or expand their businesses in an area. 

School districts use the data to determine whether more schools or classrooms will be needed, and in what part of a city or county. Does an area need additional senior living options? Should the area prepare for changes in traffic volume and congestion? Are additional hospitals or clinics needed? 

Messing up the Census results in flawed data, and can lead to flawed decisions that affect the lives of every person in this country.


For more information:

Can There Be a Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census? A Judge Will Soon Rule (New York Times, 27 Nov 2018)

Judge Rebukes Trump Officials Over Bid to Stop Census Trial (Bloomberg News, 20/21 Nov 2018)

Supreme Court To Weigh In On Dispute Over Census Citizenship Question Evidence (NPR, 16 Nov 2018)

Former Census Director Blasts Trump’s Citizenship Question at Trial (Bloomberg News, 9 Nov 2018)

In Trump’s Hands, the Census Becomes a Weapon (ACLU Blog, 5 Nov 2018)

How The 2020 Census Citizenship Question Ended Up In Court (NPR, Morning Edition, 4 Nov 2018)

Trump Administration Admits Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach Were Involved in Adding Census Citizenship Question (Slate, 11 Oct 2018)

Commerce Secretary Now Recalls Discussing Citizenship Question With Steve Bannon (NPR, Morning Edition, 11 Oct 2018)

New Documents Undercut Commerce Secretary’s Claims About Origins of Census Citizenship Question; Wilbur Ross said he added the controversial question at the Justice Department’s request. That’s not how it went. (Mother Jones, 18 Sept 2018)


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