Top Census Official Says Jeff Sessions Improperly Intervened to Ignore Data About Citizenship Question

A top official at the U.S. Census Bureau claims that former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used “political influence” in order to ensure that a controversial citizenship question remained part of the official 2020 Census form.

According to Talking Points Memo, the Census Bureau’s leading scientist John Abowd testified on Wednesday that Sessions side-stepped typical procedures outlined in a guidebook used by federal statistical agencies.

Abowd was asked by ACLU attorney Dale Ho if Sessions’ interference would have run afoul of the guidebook‘s recommendation that a “federal statistical agency must be independent from political and other undue external influence in developing, producing, and disseminating statistics.”

To which Abowd replied:

Many experts, including myself, would interpret that as political influence.

Abowd said that Sessions’s intervention came in the midst of an analysis being conducted by Census Bureau experts addressing the issue of whether the inclusion of the citizenship question would help or hinder the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) obtain data needed for Voting Rights Acts (VRA) enforcement. Sessions had previously argued that such data could best be obtained by using the citizenship question.

The Census Bureau’s official report ultimately found that existing administrative records would better serve Sessions’s request for the VRA data. Additionally, the Census Bureau determined that by including the controversial citizenship question the overall data collected by the agency would be less accurate–while incurring substantial monetary costs.

After finishing their report, Abowd and his team followed procedure and scheduled a meeting with DOJ to discuss the Census Bureau’s official position on the citizenship question. Sessions then cancelled the meeting, according to deposition testimony from the DOJ’s former Civil Rights division head John Gore.

Abowd was only later made aware of the Sessions’ cancellation directive.

In his testimony, Abowd also said he had never heard of another instance in which an attorney general directed his own staff to ignore results–Census Bureau data–gathered and compiled after a request initiated by his own agency.

Abowd’s testimony came during an ongoing federal trial in New York State regarding Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross‘s decision to include the controversial citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

Law&Crime previously reported that Sessions has been accused of attempting to hide information regarding the inclusion of the question before. Democrats have accused the Trump administration of attempting to “sabotage” the 2020 Census by using the citizenship question.

[image via Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

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