President Trump has exercised executive privilege to protect the confidentiality of information and discussions shared within his administration that resulted in the Department of Commerce adding a question to the 2020 census related to citizenship.
Trump exercised executive privilege on Wednesday, June 12, at the behest of the Justice Department. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote an explanation to the House Oversight and Reform Committee in response to the committee’s subpoenas seeking more information from the White House.
Boyd states in his letter, “These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege. … Regrettably, you have made these assertions necessary by your insistence upon scheduling a premature contempt vote.”
Within an hour of learning about the White House’s decision, the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), proceeded with a hearing and vote to hold both Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with the subpoenas.
“We must protect the integrity of the census, and we must stand up for Congress’s authority under the Constitution to conduct meaningful oversight,” Cummings stated before the panel.
The dispute between the White House and the House Oversight Committee has been ongoing since March of this year. Ross indicated in March that the additional census question is intended to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act.
Some Democrats have expressed concerns that adding a question about citizenship to the census will discourage immigrants from participating and thereby lead to an underestimation of minority voters in census data. However, Cummings believes that background documents from within the Trump administration would show that Republicans can use citizenship data to redefine legislative districts and effectively gerrymander them in favor of Republican candidates going forward.
Having passed the Oversight Committee, a contempt vote could now move before the full House of Representatives.