Almost immediately, the White House defended the move with false claims. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, for example, “This is a question that’s been included in every census since 1965.” That wasn’t even close to being true.
But more important was the larger rationale: the administration said the move was precipitated by the Justice Department’s concerns about enforcing the Voting Rights Act. There’s new evidence that suggests that wasn’t true, either. The New York Times reported:
Government emails disclosed in a federal lawsuit show that within months of taking office, the Trump administration began discussing the need to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, contradicting initial accounts of how officials made the controversial decision.
In May 2017, the emails show, President Trump’s chief strategist at the time, Steve Bannon, requested that Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross “talk to someone about the census.” A month later, Mr. Ross began demanding that the question be added, and a top aide pledged to press Justice Department officials to say they needed better citizenship data for law enforcement.
On May 2, 2017, Wilbur Ross sent an email to Earl Comstock, director of the department’s Office of Policy and Strategic Planning, which read in part, “I am mystified why nothing have [sic] been done in response to my months old request that we include the citizenship question. Why not?”
Ten months later, Ross delivered sworn testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee and told lawmakers that the request for the question was initiated by the Justice Department in December 2017.
It led Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to say in a statement, “Lying to Congress is a serious offense, and Secretary Ross must be held accountable.”
All of this has come to light as a result of a federal lawsuit – filed by attorneys general for 17 states and the District of Columbia, as well as several cities and counties – challenging the administration’s decision and seeking to block the citizenship question’s inclusion in the Census.
In a court hearing earlier this month, Judge Jesse Furman said he had reason to believe Trump’s Commerce Department had acted in “bad faith” in deciding to add the question.
I’m starting to think the judge was onto to something.