White House Escalates Fight Over US 2020 Census Question on Citizenship to Supreme Court

The following announcement is from the IAJGS Mailing List:

As previously reported on the IAJGS Records Access Alert, the addition to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 US Census by the Commerce Department has resulted in at least six lawsuits. The largest lawsuit, which includes more than two dozen states and cities is before US Federal District Court Southern District of New York, Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan (New York City, NY) who ruled in late July that the case may move forward.  Judge Furman also agreed to have Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Acting Assistant Attorney General  John Grove for the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice be deposed as to why Secretary Ross added the question. There is some question whether Secretary Ross did it at the request of the Department of Justice or he had wanted to do this all along based on comments he made almost a year before the request to add the citizenship question.

On Friday, September 28, the Justice Department, representing the White House filed a motion to stay discovery pending Supreme Court Review. The motion may be read at: https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=4951932-Sept-28-2018-Letter-Motion-to-Stay-Discovery.

A potential trial for the New York case is set for November 5 at the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. Before the US Supreme Court would entertain the stay, the court where the case is being heard had to be petitioned. The Department of  Justice sent a request to stay all discovery and depositions of Secretary Ross and Acting Assistant Attorney General Grove to Judge Furman at the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. Judge Furman denied the request on September 30 saying it was “particularly frivolous if not outrageous”. He further stated that Secretary Ross is to be made available for deposition on October 11, 2018. To read Judge Furman’s declination see: https://twitter.com/hansilowang/status/1046518491350740993

Previously, the White House submitted redacted information in response to the request for information. Judge Furman has asked for non-redacted information. To read more see:


Potential trials for the two cases in California and one of the Maryland cases are set to start in January. Rulings by the district court judges are expected to be appealed to higher courts.

To read the previous IAJGS Records Access Alert postings about the US 2020 Census and more go to: http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/private/records-access-alerts/.  You must be registered to access the archives.  To register go to:  http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/listinfo/records-access-alerts and follow the instructions to enter your email address, full name and which genealogical  organization with whom you are affiliated.   You will receive an email response that you have to reply to or the subscription will not be finalized.

Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee


Me sitting here in England am flummoxed as to the language used by Jan Meisels Allen. Phrases such as “be deposed” and “all discovery” do not mean anything to me. I have read the announcement twice and still don’t understand what it is trying to say. What a load of bureaucratic nonsense.


    These two phrases are used in legal system and to my knowledge no where else.

    To “be deposed” meaning to be questioned . “All discovery”, meaning all written memos, directives, orders, whatnots related to the issue.


    Depositions are statements given under oath in response to requests for information in the course of a pre-trial process called “discovery.”
    A lot of jurisdictions let attorneys withold everything and spring surprises on their opponents in the courtroom during the trial, but US courts tend to come down in favor of broad discovery in civil cases.
    The theory is that letting both sides discover what kind of evidence their opponents may be able to present at the trial will encourage them to avoid wasting the time of the judge and jury in the courtroom by disposing of issues that are not worth contesting ahead of time, or perhaps even reaching a settlement that will eliminate the need to go to trial at all.
    In this case, the parties are arguing about whether or not certain information one side wants and the other side doesn’t want to disclose needs to be revealed, and if so, how long they can delay before turning it over to the opposition.


This subject makes me feel particularly dimwitted. Is the problem that the people responsible for the Census want a question regarding citizenship or do they NOT want such a question?

I haven’t looked at them for a few months, but I do recall that at least several previous censuses I have studied for genealogical purposes have featured such questions without causing any apparent storms of outrage.

Will there be future calumny about asking whether a person is male or female? Or, maybe, if a person is a veteran of U.S. military service?


    The question, like many others (including how the members of the household are related to one another), has been asked in the past, but not consistently. Usually the citizenship question is trotted out in times when there is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment or fear of foreigners, as during WWI and WWII and that is probably why it has become such a sensituve question and tends to make people shy away from participating in the census at all.
    This reluctance to participatr becomes a big issue for communities with a large foreign-born population, because so many decisions about programs and funding are made on the basis of population as counted in the census, meaning that a small community that is 100% counted may receive a larger share of the pie than a larger community thatbis only 80% counted.


    The resolution would be to follow the Australian example in making it compulsory for everyone to complete their census form, but keep the USA example of making those forms public in digital format within a reasonable period of time. Not the UK example of having to wait 100 years before publication.


Census records are private for 75 years because people might not be as truthful if they were made public. However, researchers all know that not all of the information on them is correct, for various reasons.
However, the census bureau statistics will show that there are many who are truthful and are not citizens. However, many have Green Cards so are legal. This is the more important question, not for citizenship alone. Illegals can not tell the truth! There is no way to accurately tell if they are legal. Place of birth has been asked for most census in the past, but not always.


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