By Raoul Lowery Contreras
“Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”
—14th Amendment, Section 2
The Constitution of the United States is quite clear: all “persons” in the United States shall be counted every ten years. From that count, congressional districts are allocated and drawn, and billions of dollars are budgeted and spent on everything from post offices to roads to food stamps to educational aid. Every single person in the United States is affected by the census count; thus, it is incumbent on the Census to count every possible “person.”
As the Constitution clearly states “person,” the question of citizenship is unimportant. Even the original Constitution stated in Article I, Section 2, that “Representatives…shall be apportioned among the several states…according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians, not taxed, three fifth of all other persons.”
Thus, anything that disrupts a census from being as complete as possible is unconstitutional unless the disruption is concocted by the U.S. Congress.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is in charge of the census. His desire to follow the anti-immigrant philosophy of the Trump administration impedes the goal of an accurate 2020 count of the American population.
If Ross was a brilliant cabinet secretary with a long list, or any list, of public service and accomplishments, one might pay attention to his defense of interfering with normal census procedures. But he has no such sterling record.
His defense: The Department of Justice asked him to include the citizenship query in the census so that it could better administer the Voting Rights Act.
In fact, his interference with a legal census count is, according to testimony and evidence in three separate court cases, the result of direction from the White House, not his own department. Three separate federal district judges have ruled that Ross included the “are you a citizen” question at the insistence of former White House advisor Steve Bannon, failed Kansas state politician Kris Kobach and, undoubtedly, President Trump’s immigration Svengali, Steven Miller. No support comes from the Census Bureau’s professional staff, any former census director or from more than a handful of states.
In Ross’ defense at the Supreme Court this week, Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco admitted that some undercounting might occur but that it was worth it. He also emphasized that the citizenship question was asked in the first census and through 1950. Since then, however, it has not been asked of everyone every ten years. However, it has been included in annual surveys, and most statistics professionals agree that is actually a more accurate approach.
The last five census directors, serving both Republican and Democratic Presidents, predict in their court filings that inserting the citizenship question into the 2020 Census will result in as many as 6.5 million people not being counted because they will fear that answering the form will endanger them despite it being illegal for the Census Bureau to share information with other agencies.
The Constitution is clear: the census should be as accurate as possible by counting every “person.” Or, as put by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in arguments before the court: “Enumeration is how many people reside here…Not how many are citizens.”
Severe impacts can result from an inaccurate census count. California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York could lose Congressional seats. Fewer roads would be built in some states. School lunches would be cut back where there are many foreign born. Millions of people could suffer.
The Supreme Court must decide the issue by June as 2020 Census forms need start being printed by July 1 . Observers of the court guess the odds of the Trump administration winning the case are five to four.
On the other hand, it might be five to four against the Trump administration.
The only concrete observation that can be made of this case is that if the court cannot read and understand the 14th Amendment’s mandate for an all “person” census count, it cannot read any part of the Constitution in an acceptable manner.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.
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