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House Oversight Panel Sues Barr, Ross to Obtain Census Documents

November 27, 2019by Billy House
U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Barr is appearing before the Senate committee one day before he's supposed to testify before the House, where he faces questions about his interpretation of Robert Mueller's report. (Ken Cedeno/Sipa USA/TNS)

WASHINGTON — A House committee on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to get documents on the administration’s unsuccessful attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege in June to deny material that the Committee on Oversight and Reform had subpoenaed in order to examine the administration’s motivations in its attempt to put a question about citizenship on census forms.

“I am filing this enforcement action today because the Trump administration’s brazen obstruction of Congress must not stand,” said the committee’s new chairman, Carolyn Maloney of New York. “President Trump and his aides are not above the law.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says “the committee must understand the extent of maladministration by government officials and the scope and nature of procedural defects relating to the census.” The legal papers say that includes understanding the Commerce Department’s “efforts to affect the accuracy of the enumeration, and improper political influences on the census.”

On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled the administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the census violated federal law and that its purported rationale for adding the question was “contrived,” “cannot be adequately explained,” and “does not match the explanation the secretary gave for his decision.” Trump gave up on his effort to add a citizenship question a few weeks later.

The House voted in July to hold Barr and Ross in contempt for refusing to produce documents under the committee’s subpoenas.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling and the House contempt vote, Barr and Ross have continued to refuse to produce any additional documents in response to the subpoenas over the past four months.

Congressional Democrats have said they are looking for evidence the Trump administration’s bid to include the citizenship question was designed to suppress census responses from immigrants and noncitizens. Cutting the population count could have reduced congressional seats, Electoral College clout and federal funding for some states.

The 2020 census begins in Alaska in January and across the rest of the country in April.

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