“The bitter lie behind the census’s citizenship question”

Vanita Gupta WaPo oped:

What is the benefit here? The false justification offered by Sessions and his Justice Department, and repeated in Ross’s decision memo, is that this question is critical for Voting Rights Act enforcement. That argument is a bitter lie, laced with cruel irony. Consider that this is the same Sessions who has called the Voting Rights Act “intrusive” and has shown no compunction in flouting voting rights enshrined in law.

During the final years of the Obama administration, I was the Justice Department official responsible for overseeing voting rights enforcement. I know firsthand that data from the ongoing American Community Survey was sufficient for us to do our work. Rigorous enforcement of the Voting Rights Act has never required the addition of a citizenship question on the census form sent to all households. In fact, the census has not collected citizenship data from every household since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The last time this question was asked of everyone, this country was in a pre-civil rights era when communities of color were systematically undercounted and underrepresented. The Trump-Sessions-Ross argument is a red herring.

But these arguments should sound familiar. The notorious Kris Kobach and other advocates for voter suppression laws have pushed this question before — spurring legitimate suspicion from public officials and other stakeholders who wonder why the Trump administration would seek to undermine an accurate 2020 Census. The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee validated those suspicions last week by baring their partisan, nativist intentions in a fundraising email forecasting this decision, telling recipients “the President wants to know if you’re on his side.”


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