A 2020 Census form. Courtesy California Secretary of State

A wannabe imperial presidency has been checked and balanced by the original framers of the Constitution and the victors of the Civil War—the Radical Republicans—with five carefully selected words used in 1787 and referenced again in 1865.

Those five words — “whole number of free persons” — instruct the United States how to count people in the mandated decennial count of all people in America.

Recent comments by proponents of adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census have pointed to the Constitution’s 14th Amendment for support of the question’s constitutionality.

Section 2 of that amendment mentions “the whole number of male citizens.” But those words appear in a clause that was added to prevent disenfranchising new African American voters after the Civil War. A careful reading of the sentence makes it clear that a state’s representation in Congress was to be reduced in proportion to the number of male citizens who were disenfranchised. Representation in Congress was to be based on “counting the whole number of persons in each state.”

In any event, the Constitution’s original mandate of a decennial count is clear about counting all persons. Article 1, Section 2, states that the population of the United States is to “be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons.”

Of course, the “three fifths of all other persons” referred African slaves and their progeny. That wording was superseded by the 14th Amendment, but the original intent of counting the “whole number of persons” remains.

The issue was raised for the 2020 Census by President Trump’s anti-immigrant politics. Shouldn’t government know how many citizens and non-citizens there are? And wasn’t the question asked in many census counts through 1950?

For the record, it continues to be asked in the annual American Community Survey, which samples 1 percent of the U.S. population. So we do know how many citizens and non-citizens there are.

Raoul Lowery Contreras

The challenge for an accurate count of the “whole number of persons” is that an estimated 6.5 million immigrants might not participate out of fear, thus skewing the overall results. Should an undocumented resident trust one branch of the U.S. government to not hand over information to other branches of government whose officers carry guns, badges and deportation orders?

If any substantial cohort of people do not participate in the census for any reason, states could lose representatives in Congress, and be cheated out of federal money that is apportioned according to the number of people counted in the census.

The Constitution is clear in both Article 1, Section 2, and the 14th Amendment. The “whole number of persons” shall be counted every ten years, not just citizens.

To argue otherwise has no basis in the Constitution and the fact that the citizenship question hasn’t been asked for the last 70 years proves that the numbers of citizens can be determined without scaring off millions of people from participating in the census.

By abandoning his quest for the citizenship question, either President Trump read the Constitution or his Justice Department supporters with law degrees re-read it.

No matter, the issue is settled. All people will be counted in the United States in 2020. The Constitution trumped Donald Trump.

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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