As the debate on whether to include a question on U.S. citizenship status in the upcoming 2020 census developed with a Supreme Court case this week. The Department of Justice informed the House Oversight Committee that it will be rejecting a subpoena demanding the appearance of the highly ranked Civil Rights official, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore.
House Democrats voted earlier this month to launch subpoenas compelling a number of officials to testify on this issue as well as on other aspects of the administration. This has caused an escalation between House Democrats and President Trump, who suspects that this is all part of a partisan effort to obstruct on policy matters, saying “we are fighting all the subpoenas.”
This debate began last year when Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that plans were being made for the 2020 census to ask the entire population residing within the United States about citizenship status. This became controversial since such a question was not included since 1950. However, there is nothing in particular at odds with the law with this proposal, except for the usual partisan disagreements.
The process was initiated before the Commerce Secretary’s announcement by the Justice Department in December 2017, when it requested “that the Census Bureau reinstate on the 2020 Census questionnaire a question regarding citizenship.” According to the DOJ, the official reason for the request was that the data will be critical to understanding populations of eligible voters so racial discrimination can be prevented at the polls with Voting Rights Act. The Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department, has had internal disagreements, with the leadership of the bureau opposing the action defended by Secretary Ross.
The Hill reported that the House Oversight Committee authorized a subpoena for Secretary Ross to turn over all internal communications concerning the citizenship question and have continued in that effort with another subpoena for Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gore, which was voted upon 23-14 on party lines. Also, a third subpoena was issued to compel Attorney General Bill Barr to reveal all communications about the citizenship question with the White House, the Republican National Committee, the Trump campaign, or any members of Congress.
However, CNN reported that the response from DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec was that: “In keeping with longstanding Department of Justice policy, neither Mr. Gore nor anyone else in the Department will be forced to testify in their capacity as a DOJ official on DOJ matters without DOJ counsel.”