Donald Trump has invoked executive privilege to block the release of documents related to the creation of the 2020 census, a new flash point in Democrats’ continuing war with the White House.
The president’s decision came as the House oversight and reform committee was due to begin proceedings to hold William Barr, the attorney-general, and Wilbur Ross, commerce secretary, in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide sufficient information about why the administration had added a question about citizenship to the 2020 census.
Should the question ultimately be included in the census, which happens just once a decade, it could dramatically alter the electoral landscape — potentially changing the number of congressional seats certain districts are given, as well as how much federal funding they receive.
Elijah Cummings, the Democratic chairman of the House oversight committee, indicated that the committee was prepared to take action against Mr Barr and Mr Ross for their failure to turn over subpoenaed documents related to Congress’s inquiry into the census.
“We must protect the integrity of the census, and we will stand up for Congress’ authority under the constitution to conduct meaningful oversight,” said Mr Cummings.
Should the oversight committee proceed with the contempt vote as expected, it would mark the second time in weeks that a House committee has voted to hold top administration officials in contempt of Congress.
Earlier in May, the House judiciary committee advanced a measure to hold Mr Barr in contempt for failing to hand over documents related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia interference in the 2016 election.
While that measure had been expected to proceed to a full House vote earlier this week, it was ultimately delayed after the judiciary committee announced that the US Department of Justice had agreed to hand over the report’s underlying documents.
The House separately passed a different measure that authorises House committee chairs to go to court to enforce their subpoenas, handing new authority to figures such as Jerrold Nadler, the House judiciary committee chairman, and Mr Cummings in their battle with the White House.
As Congress tussles with the White House over the 2020 census, the Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of the month on whether the citizenship question will be included when census documents are prepared later this year.
A total of 18 states plus the District of Columbia, as well as the United States Conference of Mayors and a group of non-governmental organisations, had all asked the Supreme Court to block the question, arguing that its inclusion violated the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, because it disproportionately affected people of colour.
The Census Bureau has warned that the question could harm the accuracy of the census data, since some noncitizens and their family members would be less inclined to take part in the survey, while also increasing the census’s costs.
The citizenship question had previously been included on all US censuses taken between 1820 and 1950, with the exception of one 1840 survey. However, the US Census Bureau ultimately moved away from the practice, fearing it negatively impacted the survey’s reliability.
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