White House fighting to prevent deposition of Wilbur Ross over census citizenship question

Donald Trump's commerce secretary had the question added to the 2020 census — a move sure to suppress immigrant participation.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Trump administration is trying to prevent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from giving a deposition explaining his decision to add a citizenship status question to the 2020 US Census. Opponents of adding the citizenship question contend it would suppress participation of immigrants that could lead to undercounting some 24 million people.

The scheme is being challenged in federal lawsuits brought by various state attorneys general. Along with suppressing participation in the census, the attorneys general contend the question about citizenship status would disproportionately affect immigrant communities by impacting the distribution of billions in federal funds.

Attorneys at the Justice Department are representing the administration in several lawsuits around the country over the citizenship question. The Justice Department on Friday requested that a federal judge block Ross’s deposition “pending review” by the US Supreme Court, according to the motion obtained by Politico. Ross oversees the Census Bureau as the head of the Commerce Department.

The Justice Department also is seeking to block the deposition of Justice Department official John Gore over the addition of the citizenship question to the Census.

Ross, a wealthy investor, has been accused of improper business dealings and multiple ethics violations as Commerce secretary.


U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York last week ordered that Ross sit for a deposition because “among other things, his intent and credibility are directly at issue.”

Furman wrote in a September 21 opinion that Ross had an “unusually strong personal interest in the matter,” and that he ordered the inclusion of the citizenship question despite “strong and continuing opposition” from the U.S. Census Bureau. The judge previously rejected the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its decision to add a citizenship question.

Documents released this summer showed that Department of Justice officials were pressured by the White House to include citizenship questions. The documents also showed that Ross may have covered up the request’s origins, which top lawyers for more than a dozen states have requested a chance to depose him about.

Ross, a wealthy investor who has been accused of improper business dealings and multiple ethics violations as commerce secretary, began considering whether to reinstate the question shortly after he was appointment in February 2017 — “well before” the Department of Justice made a formal request to do so on December 12, 2017, Furman wrote in his opinion.


ABC News reported that Ross then “ultimately mandated the addition of the citizenship question,” despite “strong and continuing opposition” from the Census Bureau, the court documents stated.

“What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is illegal,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement earlier this year. “This is clearly an attempt to bully and discourage our immigrant communities from participating in the 2020 Census count.”