The House on Wednesday voted to hold Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt for failing to provide documents related to the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, escalating the fight between Democrats and the White House over congressional oversight.
After a string of legal defeats, Trump last week abruptly retreated from his efforts to add the question to the census, announcing that he will instead order federal agencies to provide the Commerce Department with records on the numbers of citizens and noncitizens in the country.
But lawmakers continue to demand answers about the motivations behind the administration’s 19-month effort to ask about citizenship status on the decennial survey. In May, new evidence emerged suggesting that the question was crafted specifically to give an electoral advantage to Republicans and whites. The Trump administration has said it needs the information to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.
The impact of the contempt vote is largely symbolic. Those found in criminal contempt are normally referred to the Justice Department for prosecution; in this instance, the Justice Department would not prosecute itself.
I’m not sure if it means much in the grand scheme of things, but I hope that it ends up more than an empty gesture.