OKLAHOMA CITY - Attorney General Mike Hunter has joined Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry to announce their support of the United States Secretary of Commerce’s authority to reinstate a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census.
This information is necessary to provide complete and accurate data, which is critical for a variety of purposes, including promoting the right to participate in fair and free elections, the effective enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the development and tailoring of policies and services.
Attorneys General Hunter, Coffman and Landry agree that federal law grants the Secretary broad discretion to select census questions that will further the vital goal of obtaining complete and accurate statistical data about our nation, and that asking about citizenship clearly falls within that discretion. A lack of reliable citizenship data may dilute or distort the voices of eligible voters, as well as deprive both the federal government and the States of necessary information.
While two lawsuits filed by other States against the Commerce Secretary claim that including a citizenship question will discourage participation in the census, the secretary was within his authority to find that the need for accurate citizenship information outweighed the fears of a lower response rate.
“Citizenship still matters in this country,” said Attorney General Hunter. “It is important not to let a narrative of fear be established without people knowing the facts. The fact is that census data is confidential and individual responses cannot be shared with any other person, even other governmental agencies. If all public officials, including those in other states challenging the citizenship question, accurately inform and stress to the public the reality of the law, then there’s no reason for anyone to fear answering the census.”
The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the United States Code, which not only provides authority for the work the Bureau does, but also provides vigorous protection for the information collected from individuals and businesses.
As the Census Bureau states: “The Census Bureau is legally bound to strict confidentiality requirements. Individual records are not shared with anyone, including federal agencies and law enforcement entities. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents' answers with anyone—not the IRS, not the FBI, not the CIA, and not with any other government agency.”
“The goal of the census is to produce as accurate a picture as possible of the makeup of our vast and diverse country so that all people that live within our borders can be appropriately represented,” said Attorney General Coffman. “Colorado’s next redistricting and reapportionment will be based on its 2020 Census data. We need the most complete information possible to assure fair political representation of the entire state. In fact, it is so important to be able to obtain this information that federal law provides strong privacy protections for the information that is collected, which should help overcome any reluctance to participate.”
Inclusion of a citizenship question on the census is not new and is not uncommon among democratic nations. Citizenship information has historically been an important part of the U.S. census and is currently included on other surveys of sample populations, including the annual American Community Survey. Similarly, other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, and the United Kingdom, inquire about citizenship status on their census.
“I commend Secretary Ross for reinstating a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire,” said Attorney General Landry. “Nothing in the Constitution prohibits the federal government from collecting data regarding citizenship and/or residence status as a part of the census. This has been done in the past, and it is important to all states that the census is conducted in a complete manner. Returning this question to the census advances that goal while honoring American citizens’ constitutional right to vote. The Louisiana Department of Justice is supportive of this measure and is currently considering ways to support the Commerce Department’s efforts.”
Attorneys General Coffman, Hunter and Landry anticipate taking action to support the Secretary’s decision in litigation when the proper opportunity arises.
The Census Bureau provides important information on their website, including a fact sheet that helps explain why certain questions may be asked.
That fact sheet can be found at: https://bit.ly/2qkl6gu.