As the U.S. government closed a public comment period on Wednesday on its plans for the 2020 census, scientists, philanthropists and civil rights groups used the occasion to again criticize plans to include a question about U.S. citizenship. The comment period gave any member of the public a chance to comment on aspects of the census which is a mandatory, once-a-decade count of the U.S. population that next occurs in April 2020. The comments have not yet been published, but some groups and individuals reinforced their opposition to the Trump administration’s plan to ask census respondents whether they are U.S. citizens.
The Census Bureau is trying to quell concerns that it’s not prepared to protect Americans’ data from cyber intrusions when it conducts the first fully digital census in 2020. Kevin Smith, the Census Bureau’s chief information officer, used a little-publicized quarterly meeting Friday to explain how the agency is working with the Department of Homeland Security and using tools such as encryption to safeguard the troves of information it will gather in the next population count. “I want to stress that protection of the data we collect is census’s highest priority,” he said. Smith outlined some fairly basic steps, which are unlikely to satisfy a growing group of critics who say the bureau has for months avoided answering questions about its cybersecurity preparations. These critics, including members of the House Oversight Committee and former senior national security officials, argue the bureau, which is part the Commerce Department, has fallen behind on important equipment tests and left the public in the dark about whether it had implemented even minimal cybersecurity practices. They want more transparency at a time when Russian election hacks and other data breaches are increasingly putting Americans’ personal information at risk.
Are you an American citizen? The Trump administration really wants to know. In March, it added to the 2020 census a question asking people, for the first time in more than half a century, about their citizenship status. Administration officials have claimed, in public and before Congress, that the Justice Department needs the question answered in order to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act. But late last month, the government turned over a batch of emails as part of a federal lawsuit that casts significant doubt on those claims. The push to include the question has also set off concerns about the way such data might be used in the next decennial redistricting cycle, which begins in 2021. For perspective, the editorial board spoke with Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of groups that is opposing the citizenship question. From 2014 to 2017, Ms. Gupta served as the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. The new documents give us evidence in black and white of something that many of us already suspected to be the case: The rationale that the Justice Department needs to go door-to-door to find out who is a citizen in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act is obviously a ruse.
Nobody will write songs about the census. Among the fabled pillars underpinning the country’s democracy, the great American head count is often relegated to a dusty corner. In the nine interstitial years between each tally, analysis and development of a more perfect instrument take place mostly hidden from public view. There have been only 22 U.S. censuses—Presidents Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson never administered one—but the rarity of the event has not assigned it a special blue-moon-like significance among the public. For most people, the census is a vague, decennial annoyance, nothing more. But the census is vital to the country’s functioning. It’s not just a count of all households or a measure of American characteristics. It’s also an augur of political, economic, and cultural forces—a predictor and an allocator of power. In times of social upheaval—between political parties, whites and nonwhites, urban and rural areas, economic elites and the working class—the census can function almost like an umpire. And today, when each of these intertwined conflicts is escalating, the incentive and ambition for working the ref are greater than they’ve ever been.
A citizenship question on the 2020 census has already drawn challenges from states that fear an undercount of immigrants and a loss of federal funds. But demographers say there could be even deeper consequences: The question could generate the data necessary to redefine how political power is apportioned in America. Republicans officials, red states and conservatives behind a series of recent court cases have argued that districts historically allotted based on total population unfairly favor states and big cities with more undocumented immigrants, tilting power from states like Louisiana and Montana to California and New York. Congressional seats and state legislative districts should equally represent citizens or eligible voters, they say, not everyone.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had the authority to reintroduce the citizenship question on the 2020 census but, in exercising that authority, may have violated the rights of plaintiffs who are now suing, a federal judge ruled Thursday. U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman for the Southern District of New York rejected the government’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, which is challenging the Trump administration’s decision to add the question to the census. Furman stated that the plaintiffs “plausibly allege that Secretary Ross’ decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census was motivated by discriminatory animus and that its application will result in a discriminatory effect.”
Editorials: The Trump administration’s deception on the census should be a major scandal | Paul Waldman/The Washington Post
I realize that many times before you’ve been told, “If this weren’t the Trump administration where there’s a new scandal every day, this would be a major scandal.” You sighed and said, “I’m sure that’s true,” then moved on. But let me explain why the administration’s treatment of the U.S. census should, in fact, be a major scandal, particularly given some blockbuster news we just got. This scandal has a malign conspiracy, public lies, possible perjury, and an unrelenting assault not just on a core American institution enshrined in the Constitution but on democracy itself. As you may have heard, the Trump administration has decided to add a question to the 2020 Census asking whether those answering are U.S. citizens. It’s already widely known that it’s hard enough already to get people, particularly in immigrant communities, to answer the questions, because there’s not only concern about privacy but also fear that the census will be used to target people for harassment or even deportation.
A few months after he started leading the Commerce Department, Secretary Wilbur Ross became impatient. As a powerful decider for the U.S. census, he had a keen interest in adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census as soon as possible. “I am mystified why nothing [has] been done in response to my months old request that we include the citizenship question. Why not?” he wrote in a May 2017 email to two Commerce Department officials. The email was among the more than 2,400 pages of internal documents the Trump administration filed in federal courts Monday as part of the lawsuits against Ross’ addition of a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 census. NPR has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for similar documents. The court filing also includes census-related articles by NPR and other news organizations compiled by federal agency press offices. The Commerce Department and the Census Bureau are facing six lawsuits from more than two dozen states and cities, plus other groups, that want the question removed.
National: Why Was a Citizenship Question Put on the Census? ‘Bad Faith,’ a Judge Suggests | The New York Times
From the moment it was announced in March, the decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census was described by critics as a ploy to discourage immigrants from filling out the form and improve Republican political fortunes. The Commerce Department, which made the decision, insisted that sound policy, not politics, was its sole motivation. Now a federal lawsuit seeking to block the question has cast doubt on the department’s explanation and the veracity of the man who offered it, Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. And it has given the plaintiffs in the suit — attorneys general for 17 states, the District of Columbia and a host of cities and counties — broad leeway to search for evidence that the critics are correct. In a hearing last week in the United States District Court in Manhattan, Judge Jesse M. Furman gave the plaintiffs permission to search government files and take sworn testimony from up to 10 administration officials in an effort to discover how and why the citizenship decision was made.
National: Battle Lines Drawn Over the Census Citizenship Question: Challenges in Federal Courts Before the Count Begins | Rockefeller Institute of Government
The 2020 Census is fast becoming one of the most litigated, even before the actual enumeration has started. Six lawsuits over the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 questionnaire are currently pending before federal courts in California, Maryland and New York. Also pending before a Maryland federal court is a case alleging that the federal Commerce Department’s Census Bureau is inadequately prepared to conduct the 2020 Census due to delayed program tests, insufficient funding and staff shortages, likely resulting in severe undercount of minorities. In an Alabama federal court, that state’s attorney general and a member of Congress are challenging the Census Bureau’s decision to include all U.S. residents in the numbers used for congressional apportionment. Two of the citizenship question cases are before New York Southern District Federal Judge Jesse Furman. Both are on fast tracks, with trials expected by late October or early November (unless Judge Furman grants the U.S. government’s motion to dismiss the case, which he said could come sometime in July).