WASHINGTON (CN) – Riding on a unanimous Supreme Court ruling effectively blocking the Trump administration from including a citizenship question on the 2020 census, the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday sued Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for not responding to a congressional subpoena for records on the hotly debated issue.
Barr and Ross have refused to hand over documents in response to the bipartisan House subpoena since the high court’s decision in June. The House committee said the cabinet members' claim to executive privilege, relied on by Trump aides who commonly refuse to answer subpoenas, is “uniquely inappropriate” as a defense for not providing records.
“Among the government misconduct here—the reason the Supreme Court found bad faith in this record—is the very same attempt at concealment that the Defendants are now seeking to advance by cloaking their communications in the protection of the Constitution,” the 85-page complaint states.
The lawsuit was filed in D.C. federal court by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who took over chairing the committee after Congressman Elijah Cummings died last month.
Ross had testified to Congress that he put in motion plans to add the citizenship question “solely” based on a request from the Justice Department.
But the Supreme Court found that to be “contrived” to conceal the real reasoning behind the decision to add the question not asked on the census in the last 70 years.
According to Tuesday’s lawsuit, it was uncovered during litigation that Ross was “acting in concert” with other high-level officials because he “was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office.”
The lawsuit states that President Donald Trump and his top advisers discussed including the citizenship question even before he was inaugurated.
“[Ross] subsequently contacted the Attorney General himself to ask if DOJ would make agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the Attorney General himself to ask if DOJ would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process,” the complaint states.
Maloney said in a statement that since the Supreme Court ruling, both Barr and Ross have “doubled down on their open defiance of the rule of law” by refusing to provide Congress with a single additional document.
The Oversight Committee is investigating whether legislation is needed to amend the census process or “provide additional safeguards” after the conduct by Trump and top aides.
Less than a month after the high court's ruling, the House voted to hold both senior officials in contempt of Congress for refusing to produce the documents.
The committee argues that the stakes could not be higher to ensure a proper methodology for writing up the census that regulates how Congress appropriates funds based on population counts.
“If there is maladministration of the 2020 Census, the effects will be felt for decades, and once complete, the damage to the Census cannot be undone,” the complaint states.
A Commerce Department spokesman said the lawsuit is “fueled by overzealous Oversight Democrats” and lacks merit.
The agency claimed to have submitted over 2,000 documents to the committee including hundreds of pages since the Supreme Court decision.
“At the same time, the Department allowed current and former officials to sit with representatives of the Committee for transcribed interviews, while the Secretary himself testified voluntarily in front of the full Committee for seven hours. Together, they answered well over a thousand questions,” the spokesman said.
The Justice Department did not respond to request for comment on the lawsuit.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.