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  • Writer's pictureMichael McAuliff

Oversight Committee Sues For Census Documents

The Supreme Court may have killed the Trump administration’s bid to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, but the administration never did answer Congress’s subpoenas demanding details of the attempt.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney
Rep. Carolyn Maloney

Now the new chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) is going to federal court in the District of Columbia to force compliance.

“The Trump Administration’s brazen obstruction of Congress must not stand," Maloney said. "President Trump and his aides are not above the law. They cannot be allowed to disregard and degrade the authority of Congress to fulfill our core Constitutional legislative and oversight responsibilities.”

The suit is Maloney’s first official act as head of Oversight Committee, and demands that Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross turn over numerous documents that the committee first subpoenaed back in April.

The committee was trying to unearth how and why the administration moved to put the citizenship question on the Census, when its own experts warned it could harm the decennial count and raise the cost.

The administration and Ross insisted the Department of Justice wanted the question asked to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

But lawsuits filed against the move turned up reams of emails and documents that showed the question came from Ross and the White House. The Supreme Court ruled in June the Voting Rights argument was a “contrived” pretext, and blocked the question, saying the administration did not follow the law.

The Department of Commerce and Justice Department — as well as Republicans in Congress — had argued that the administration would not hand over documents while the lawsuits were pending. The information was still withheld after the high court ruled, however, with the administration asserting blanket “protective” executive privilege over everything the committee wants.

Congress voted to hold Barr and Ross in contempt in July.

Maloney is still seeking the documents in her oversight role because she and Democrats want clarity on whether or not the White House is actually doing what it is supposed to do to carry out a fair and efficient enumeration of the population, and whether there are any legislative fixes required in a hurry.

"The Committee must understand the extent of maladministration by government officials and the scope and nature of procedural defects relating to the Census, including with respect to the commerce Department's efforts to affect the accuracy of the enumeration, and improper political influences," the suit argues.

The phrase “improper political influences” refers to the actual origins of the effort to add a citizenship question. Based on information that emerged in the lawsuits, the idea came from Republican gerrymandering experts, especially the late Thomas Hofeller, who argued in a trove of documents uncovered by his estranged daughter that asking a citizenship question could be used to boost white voters.

The revelations confirmed the concerns of opponents to the question, who argued that it would suppress the count of minorities in the country.

According to a new study, the Census is used to distribute some $1.5 trillion in government funding. That’s on top of its most basic function of being the source for data to redraw congressional districts every 10 years.


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