Oversight Committee Releases New Documents and Findings on Trump Administration’s Illegal Effort to Add Citizenship Question to 2020 Census
Washington, D.C. (July 20, 2022)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, released a memorandum detailing new findings from the Committee’s investigation into the Trump Administration’s illegal efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
Documents obtained by the Committee provide new evidence that the Trump Administration was focused on the potential use of a citizenship question to exclude non-citizens from congressional apportionment, and shed light on political appointees’ efforts to use a false pretext to hide the true reason for adding the question.
These documents include drafts of an internal memorandum about the citizenship question and congressional apportionment prepared for Secretary Ross by a senior lawyer at the Department of Commerce, along with secret communications between political appointees at Commerce and the Justice Department about the pretextual rationale.
The documents were previously withheld by the Trump Administration after President Trump made a broad assertion of executive privilege, leading the House to hold President Trump’s Attorney General and Commerce Secretary in contempt. The Committee then filed a lawsuit, and key documents were ultimately produced as part of a settlement.
Chairwoman Maloney issued the following statement after releasing the new findings:
“For years, the Trump Administration delayed and obstructed the Oversight Committee’s investigation into the true reason for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, even after the Supreme Court ruled the Administration’s efforts were illegal. Today’s Committee memo pulls back the curtain on this shameful conduct and shows clearly how the Trump Administration secretly tried to manipulate the census for political gain while lying to the public and Congress about their goals.”
“It is clear that legislative reforms are needed to prevent any future illegal or unconstitutional efforts to interfere with the census and chip away at our democracy. My bill, the Ensuring a Fair and Accurate Census Act, is commonsense legislation that will help prevent a similar crisis from occurring again and will protect one of our nation’s most vital democratic institutions from partisan exploitation. I urge the House to swiftly pass this commonsense bill to safeguard the integrity and independence of the U.S. Census Bureau.”
Below are key findings from the Committee’s memo:
- Contrary to his testimony to Congress, congressional apportionment was central to Commerce Secretary Ross’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Documents obtained by the Committee show that Secretary Ross requested and received a detailed memorandum exploring the legality of adding a citizenship question to the census for purposes of apportionment, along with other potential rationales for adding a citizenship question.
- A secret, undated draft of Mr. Uthmeier’s legal memo warned that using a citizenship question for apportionment would likely violate the Constitution. The draft obtained by the Committee expressed skepticism about the legality of including a citizenship question, noting, “Over two hundred years of precedent, along with substantially convincing historical and textual arguments suggest that citizenship data likely cannot be used for purposes of apportioning representatives.”
- Commerce officials downplayed legal concerns and altered the memo to suggest the citizenship question could be used for apportionment. In later drafts of the Uthemeier memo, another political appointee, Earl Comstock, changed or removed language indicating that adding a citizenship question was likely unconstitutional. Officials also added language that emphasized the Secretary’s discretion when considering adding the citizenship question. The final memo reached essentially the opposite conclusion of the initial draft, asserting that “there is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about adding a citizenship question” and claiming, “there are bases for legal arguments that the Founding Fathers intended for the apportionment count to be based on legal inhabitants.”
- Trump Administration officials at the Department of Commerce, including Secretary Ross, secretly steered the Justice Department towards the pretextual rationale for adding the citizenship question. Mr. Uthmeier hand delivered his legal memo to DOJ, along with a hand-written note highlighting the pretext of using a citizenship question to enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The note stated that Secretary Ross “thinks DOJ would have a legitimate use of data for VRA purposes.”
On March 27, 2018—one day after Secretary Ross announced his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census—then-Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings called on the Committee to investigate the Administration’s decision and the impact the citizenship question’s addition could have on the accuracy of the count.
On January 8, 2019, under Chairman Cummings, the Committee launched an investigation. On March 14, 2019, Commerce Secretary Ross appeared in front of the Oversight Committee on Oversight for a hearing.
On April 2, 2019, after the Departments of Commerce and DOJ refused to produce key documents voluntarily, Chairman Cummings issued bipartisan subpoenas for documents to Secretary Ross and Attorney General William Barr. He also issued a deposition subpoena to John Gore, a DOJ official who had refused to answer more than 150 questions during a voluntary interview with Committee staff.
On June 27, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that Secretary Ross could not add the citizenship question based on his “contrived” rationale.
Click here to read today’s Committee memorandum.