In October, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross changed his statement about why a citizenship question would be added to the 2020 federal census.
Ross initially claimed that the question was added at the behest of the Justice Department to aid enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But in December, based on the evidence and Ross’ new statement, a federal District Court ruled that Ross added the question after consulting former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon; Kris Kobach, former Kansas secretary of state and vice president of the president’s short-lived Commission on Election Integrity; and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Then Ross pressured the Justice Department to provide a justification for adding the question.
I wasn’t surprised that Ross’ initial statements got scrutinized. The Republican party has worked to undermine the Voting Rights Act since 2000 and was gleeful when the Supreme Court gutted the law in the Shelby v. Holder decision.
I also was not surprised that the White House, Kobach and Sessions were involved.
Kobach has been a major advocate of voter suppression, and the Election Integrity Commission was established because the president claimed, without evidence, that he lost the popular vote in the 2016 election because of millions of illegal immigrants casting ballots.
The addition of a citizenship question is an attempt to intimidate immigrants and destabilize the American electorate.
Voter ID laws have a similar purpose. They seem like no big deal; people assume that if ID is necessary for routine functions, it’s fine to require ID to vote. But state voter ID laws restrict common forms of ID, and the rules intimidate voters and decrease participation of minorities and majority voters, as was clear in the 2018 midterm elections.
A citizenship question on the census will also limit access — this time to representation and funding — that again will injure the target group and citizens alike.
Article II Section 3 of the Constitution requires that the census be executed every 10 years and that it provide an “actual enumeration of all persons.” The census numbers determine congressional and state legislative districts and federal funding for public functions nationwide, for everybody.
A census undercount would be unconstitutional and result in the loss of legitimate representation and deserved funding for important functions.
It is true that citizenship questions have been on the census before; the last time was in 1950. But the addition of a question now, in this current atmosphere of immigration hostility, would discourage immigrants from filling out the forms and providing accurate information. Past census testing showed that demographic questions impeded the count, therefore they were removed. Plus, there are other mechanisms used to count U.S. residents that include citizenship.
This is why 18 states and interested organizations brought a lawsuit to determine whether Ross added the question without legal justification (which appears likely) and to get the question removed from the census. Evidence shows that Ross added the question despite expert advice against its adoption and without testing the question to confirm or deny that expert advice.
Recently, at the Supreme Court, justices appeared to break on partisan lines. Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor seemed to express concern while Neil Gorsuch voiced support.
The Supreme Court’s decision is due in June, and it will come none too soon. Census forms must be printed this summer.
I pray that the court makes the right decision. I’d like proper representation, fair application of my federal tax dollars and confidence that census will continue to operate effectively in the future.