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Cummings Issues Statement on Secretary Ross’ “Supplemental Memo” on Citizenship Question

Jun 22, 2018
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (June 20, 2018)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement on Commerce Secretary Ross’ supplemental memo regarding the administrative record on Census litigation.

“This newly released document reveals that the Commerce Department pressed the Justice Department to ask for the citizenship question to be added to the census—not the other way around.  This document suggests that the Voting Rights Act was nothing more than a pretext for adding the citizenship question for political reasons, and it raises grave questions about whether Secretary Ross and other Commerce Department officials misled Congress when they concealed this fact and testified repeatedly that they were merely responding to the Justice Department’s request.

“During this entire process, the Departments of Commerce and Justice have been withholding documents from our Committee, and Republicans have been willing to let them obstruct our investigation.  Based on this new revelation, Democrats renew their request to schedule a Committee vote to issue subpoenas to obtain all of the documents we have requested—particularly those indicating how this request came about and the objections raised by career staff.”

Secretary Ross released a “Supplemental Memorandum” dated June 21, 2018, on the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census.  In that memo, Ross states:

“My staff and I thought reinstating a citizenship question could be warranted, and we had various discussions with other governmental officials about reinstating a citizenship question to the Census.   As part of that deliberative process, my staff and I consulted with Federal governmental components and inquired whether the Department of Justice  (DOJ) would support, and if so would request, inclusion of a citizenship question as consistent with and useful for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.” 

Ross also states in the memo that these discussions occurred shortly after he became Secretary and that “other senior Administration officials had previously raised” the idea of adding the citizenship question.

An email exchange obtained by the Committee on June 8, 2018, appears to support these facts.  In the exchange from July 2017, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach recounts a call he had several months earlier with Secretary Ross “at the direction of Steve Bannon.”  In his email, Kobach proposes the specific language for the citizenship question, which he argues is “essential” and “needs to be added to the census.” 

The newly released memo appears to contradict testimony by Ross and other Commerce Department officials, who claimed repeatedly that they were responding to a Justice Department request.  For example:

  • On March 20, 2018, Secretary Ross testified before the House Committee on Appropriations:

“We have had a request, as everyone is aware, from the Department of Justice, to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.”

“We are responding solely to the Department of Justice's request.”

  • On March 22, 2018, Secretary Ross testified before the House Committee on Ways and Means:

“The Department of Justice, as you know, initiated the request for inclusion of the citizenship question.”

“Because it is from the Department of Justice, we are taking it very seriously and we will issue a fulsome documentation of whatever conclusion we  finally come to.”

  • On May 8, 2018, Earl Comstock, the Director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning at the Department of Commerce, testified before the Oversight Committee:

“We received a request from the Justice Department for this, and their rationale was that the level of the information that they needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act was not available.”

“We were asked, made a valid request by a government agency to add this to the census.  We went through our normal process, and we looked at this carefully.”

“Once again, let me just point out that this was requested by the Department of Justice for their statutory duty to enforce the Voting Rights Act.”

“The reason for this question was the Justice Department asked this to get more accurate information at the census block level.”

  • On May 10, 2018, Secretary Ross testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee:

 

“QUESTION:    Why this sudden interest in that when the department that’s supposed to enforce violations doesn’t see any problems?”

 

“ROSS:  Well, the Justice Department is the one who made the request of us.”

 

EFFORTS BY OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE DEMOCRATS TO OBTAIN DOCUMENTS:

  • On March 26, the Commerce Department announced the decision to add the citizenship question.  On that date, Secretary Wilbur Ross issued a memo conceding that career officials at the Census Bureau “expressed concern” that adding a citizenship question “would negatively impact the response rate for noncitizens.”
  • On April 4, Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings and Committee Members Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Wm. Lacy Clay, Gerald Connolly, and Jimmy Gomez sent a letter to the Commerce Department requesting documents relating to these concerns.  The Department refused, instead telling Members that it was collecting documents in response to separate litigation and would produce those documents when they provided them to parties in the lawsuits.
  • On April 24, all Democratic Members of the Committee sent a letter requesting that Chairman Gowdy subpoena the Commerce Department for these documents.  He did not respond.
  • On May 1, Committee Democrats wrote a letter to the Justice Department requesting documents relating to its role in the decision to add the citizenship question.  After the Department failed to respond, the Democrats wrote to Gowdy on May 15, requesting that he subpoena those documents.  He did not respond.
  • On May 21, Ranking Member Cummings sent a letter requesting that Chairman Gowdy place on the agenda for the Committee’s next business meeting motions to subpoena these documents from the Commerce and Justice Departments.  The Chairman did not respond.  At the business meeting on May 23, Rep. Maloney offered a motion for the Committee to debate and vote on these subpoenas, but Republicans blocked their consideration.
  • In addition, on May 23, Republicans on the Oversight Committee defeated, on a party-line vote of 20 to 16, H. Res. 877, a Resolution of Inquiry introduced by Committee Member Jimmy Gomez seeking documents from the Secretary of Commerce related to the citizenship question.
115th Congress