Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced [text, PDF] Monday that the 2020 census will include a question regarding citizenship status, a measure the Justice Department said will better aid enforcement of the Voting Rights Act [materials].
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has already filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging the decision. Becerra argues the question would discourage non-citizens from participating in the census, which would disproportionately affect California over other states.
Ross said in the memorandum that neither California, nor other stakeholders, provided evidence to show the citizenship question would deter people from participating in the census. Ross said lack of participation is independent from citizenship inquiry and adding the question will not incentivize nor deter those same people any more or less. He concluded saying:
Other stakeholders referenced the political climate generally and fears that Census responses could be used for law enforcement purposes. But no one provided evidence that reinstating a citizenship question on the decennial census would materially decrease response rates among those who generally distrusted government and government information collection efforts, disliked the current administration, or feared law enforcement. Rather, stakeholders merely identified residents who made the decision not to participate regardless of whether the Census includes a citizenship question. The reinstatement of a citizenship question will not decrease the response rate of residents who already decided not to respond.
The Office of Public Affairs announced [text] the decision and further justified the rationale, saying: “On December 12, 2017, DOJ requested that the Census Bureau reinstate a citizenship question on the decennial census to provide census block level citizenship voting age population (CVAP) data that is not currently available from government surveys. DOJ and the courts use CVAP data for the enforcement of Section 2 of the VRA, which protects minority voting rights.” The California lawsuit may potentially limit the wording and/or use of the citizenship question.