Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images
After its failed attempt to add a citizenship issue to the 2020 census, the Trump administration has moved ahead with ordering the Census Bureau to use state records to produce US citizenship status data for every person living in the country.  In July, the agency quietly filed a legislative document confirming that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross – who oversees the federal government's largest statistics agency – had directed it "to produce Citizenship Voting Age Population" information "that states can use in redistricting."  In December last year, the agency announced that it had formally collected feedback from state redistricting officials on the type of demographic information needed to redraw voting areas after the 2020 census.
"If these stakeholders indicate a need for citizen information tables on the 2020 Census Public Law 94-171 Redistricting Data File, the Census Bureau will make a design change to include citizenship as part of that information, "the agency said in a Federal Register statement.
It turns out that not a single stakeholder told the Census Bureau that there was a need to include citizenship information in redistricting information, the agency announced this week in a regulatory document that was submitted to the White House Administration and Budget Office.
But the agency still plans to release citizenship information, separate from the redistricting data file, by March 2021.
The announcement raises questions as to exactly why the Trump administration's officials have cited state redistricting as a reason for pushing for the release of citizen information that is more detailed than estimates from the agency's American Community Survey.
Before he died, the GOP district strategist, Thomas Hofeller, drew in an unpublished study that detailed citizen information could allow drawing of voting areas that would be "beneficial to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites." However, lawyers for the Trump administration have argued that Hofeller played "little, if any, role in advocating for a citizen issue" that would have provided detailed citizen information.
President Trump has yet to emphasize the potential implications of this information on state redistricting. Through an executive order released in July, Trump directed all federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, to share their citizenship with the Department of Commerce.
"I understand that some government officials are interested in such data for district purposes," Trump said in the executive order gathering citizen information. "This order will help the Department [Commerce] secure the most accurate and complete citizen information so that it can respond to such requests from the states."
The White House has not answered NPR's questions about which state officials the president referred to in the executive order.
The Department of Commerce's public affairs office also did not respond to NPR's questions about Ross's decision to order the information produced.
A notable reason for citizen data not mentioned in the executive order is to enforce Voting Rights Act protection against discrimination against racial and language minorities. Throughout the legal battle over the now-blocked citizenship issue, the administration used the Civil Rights Act as its stated motivation – a reason federal courts rejected, with a judge calling it a "shameful motivation."
refer to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 2016 Evenwel v. Abbott who left unresolved whether it is legal for states to rewrite legislative districts based on the number of electoral voters in an area rather than all residents.
We do not need and do not resolve, as Texas now argues, states can draw districts to compare eligible population rather than total population, "Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court majority.
This decision set up this issue for a future Supreme Court battle and the Trump administration's efforts on citizen data have helped pave the way for a potential political battle.
The principal investigator of the agency, John Abowd, recently announced that the agency plans to complete how it will release citizen data 2021. March 1965