The Trump Administration is considering adding a question on citizenship to the upcoming census. Excerpt:
While it might seem like the epitome of boring government bureaucracy, the count of every person living in America — which must take place every ten years, according to the Constitution — is extremely important, as the data is used to draw political districts and determine the distribution of federal funding. The Trump administration’s move is likely to give Republicans, who already have an edge in congressional and state legislative maps, an even greater advantage for years to come.
The citizenship question has not been included in the decennial Census since 1950, though it is included in some smaller population surveys. Adding the question is expected to discourage noncitizens — a population already difficult to count accurately — from responding to the Census. A majority of undocumented immigrants live in 20 metropolitan areas, so undercounting this population would shift power and resources away from more Democratic-leaning cities and toward Republican-leaning rural areas.
As the Washington Post explains, the shift could give Republicans an additional tool in years to come by providing a count of U.S. residents who are eligible to vote. The courts have long mandated that U.S. House districts must be based on the total population, which includes children, undocumented immigrants, and others who cannot vote. However, for many years conservative advocates have discussed the possibility of drawing state and local districts based only on eligible voters — which would exclude nonvoters, who are disproportionately minority.
Drawing districts on the basis of eligible voters, not just gross population, is a good idea – but it would face massive court challenges. The Constitution mandates the census but doesn’t mandate how districts are drawn; theoretically that is up to the several States, but in recent years such issues have been decided by the courts, who have become a de facto legislature. But the pushback isn’t just coming from the courts:
Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, who has devoted his post-Obama administration career to fighting the GOP’s state-level advantage, said he intends to sue as well.
“We will litigate to stop the Administration from moving forward with this irresponsible decision,” said Holder, who is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “The addition of a citizenship question to the Census questionnaire is a direct attack on our representative democracy.“
My immediate response to this, coming as it does from the architect of the Fast and Furious gun-running operation, is “oh, fuck off, Holder.” My second, more considered response, is “since when are you concerned about representative democracy – and do you even know that the United States is not a democracy, but a constitutional republic?”
RHEEEEing from both sides of the issue aside, I don’t think this will have much effect on the census or on redistricting. The 2020 census will probably, more than anything else, serve to point up the increasing urban v. rural divide that is drawing our nation apart – and the addition of the citizenship question won’t make much difference there.
With that said, I would like to see districting and so forth apportioned on the basis of a count of actual citizens. I’m not at all clear on exactly why non-citizens should count in apportioning representation in the Imperial City. But adding a question to the census, unfortunately, won’t accomplish much.