Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross failed a crucial test of leadership this week. Buckling to President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and their anti-immigrant agenda, Ross agreed to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, sacrificing the integrity, fairness and accuracy of the count. For the good of our democracy, Congress must overturn his decision. Ross testified just last week that he was still considering the Justice Department’s last-minute, “very controversial request” (as he put it) to jam an untested, unnecessary question about citizenship status onto the 2020 questionnaire. That request drew intense opposition from a nonpartisan and ideologically broad group of business leaders, state and local officials, social scientists, and civil and human rights advocates who know how much is at stake with a fair and accurate census.
Not only is the constitutionally mandated census central to apportioning political power at every level of our representative form of government, but also the data collected influences the allocation of more than $675 billion in federal funds every year, along with countless policy and investment decisions by government agencies, nonprofit organizations and private enterprise.
The Supreme Court in 2016 ruled unanimously that “representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote,” and the Constitution makes clear that the census has a clear purpose: to count all U.S. residents, regardless of background, as the basis for the apportionment of political power. The Census Bureau spent most of this decade responding to this mandate, leading painstaking research, technology development and question testing. With their belated interference, Trump and Sessions are upending this meticulous preparation.