Justice Department Fails to Alleviate Serious Concerns about Census Citizenship Question

WASHINGTON –John Gore, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, today appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he failed to demonstrate that the inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 Census was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and would not discourage participation. In response, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, said that the citizenship question will compromise preparations for the 2020 Census and jeopardize the accuracy of the count in all communities.

“The untimely and unnecessary addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census is extremely counterproductive, unwise, and superfluous, said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The census is a sacred trust and the goal is to produce a fair and accurate count. Using census questions as a fear tactic not only shatters the trust in democracy but destroys vulnerable communities who are already at greater risk of being undercounted—which completely sabotages the accuracy of the 2020 count.”

Arturo Vargas, executive director of National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund said, “Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census at the 11th hour will undermine the integrity of one of the most preeminent scientific agencies in the world, further jeopardizing the accuracy of the 2020 Census and wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in the process. Using enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a justification for the addition of a citizenship question is only a smoke screen for the political motivations behind this costly and unwise decision.  Data on citizenship are already readily available through the American Community Survey and used widely in litigation in court. The stakes are too high for a failed 2020 Census, and we will not sit idly by as those with malicious intentions seek to thwart a fair and accurate count of immigrants, Latinos and all Americans. The fight has just begun, and we will not stop until we have exhausted all avenues to provide the Census Bureau with the fix and certainty it needs to tackle its most ambitious task yet, counting the largest American population in history.”

John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC said, “It’s in the Constitution: Every person counts, and every person must be counted. The addition of a citizenship question puts this mandate in jeopardy as evidence mounts that minority and immigrant communities are concerned about responding to it. Assistant Attorney General Gore and the U.S. Department of Commerce have yet to prove this question will not adversely affect the 2020 Census count – a burden of proof that is the sole responsibility of the Commerce Department.”

The groups noted that Gore failed to:

  • explain why the citizenship question was not requested by the Justice Department in 2010;
  • explain which cases in the last 53 years of VRA enforcement the Justice Department lost because it did not have this info;
  • explain which cases the Justice Department would bring now if only it had this information;
  • cite any support from career staff in the Voting Section or civil rights organizations who actually bring these cases.

Gore also provided an incomplete and misleading response with respect to the Benavidez case. Gore cited Benavidez v. Irving Ind. Sch. Dist. as a case dismissed because citizenship estimates from the ACS were deemed not sufficient. Here are the facts: The case used the 2007 ACS 1-year estimate, which was not a sufficient sample size; but in 2007, there was no 5-year estimate because the ACS did not begin until 2005. Today, there are now 5-year estimates that can be used that provide reliable data for smaller geographies. The bottom line is that, as voting rights expert Justin Levitt has noted, “this case would not have been remedied by a more precise decennial enumeration of citizenship: at the start of the decade, existing data was sufficiently precise to show that the plaintiffs had not yet reached the appropriate threshold. Nothing in Secretary Ross’s proposal would have given these plaintiffs any comfort.”


The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.

NALEO Educational Fund is the leading non-profit, non-partisan organization that facilitates full Latino participation in the American political process, from citizenship to public service.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC has a mission to advance the civil and human rights for Asian Americans and to build and promote a fair and equitable society for all.