The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday concerns the rationality of putting a citizenship question on the 2020 US Census. President Donald Trump wants to know how many people living in our nation are actually citizens of the United States. Democrats/Liberals/ Leftists/Communists do not want this information to be gathered, and they fight the very idea. However, the President has a firm foundation on which to base his claim. The Supreme Court recently ruled on this case, but the Justices did not say that it is unconstitutional. They merely wanted a clearer understanding of why the question is needed.
The Enumeration Clause (also known as the Census Clause) in the U.S Constitution (Article 1, Sections 1&2) says: “Representatives … shall be apportioned among several states … according to their respective numbers … the actual enumeration shall be made within three years and the first meeting of the Congress of the United States of America, and within every subsequent term of ten years in such manner as they shall by law direct.” This basically means that a census is to be held every ten years with the first one being held within three years from the ratification of the Constitution.
The first census was conducted in 1790 to take the first head count. This number determined how the Representatives in the U.S. House would be distributed. The census was first performed by U.S. Marshalls, then census workers, and then by U.S. Postal Service with help from census workers.
The last year that a question about citizenship appeared on the actual census was 1950. The census form for that year asked for the birthplace of each person. A follow-up question asked, “If foreign born, Is he naturalized?” The citizenship question was dropped for the 1960 census, but the birthplace question remained. The last time a citizenship question appeared on the census form was 1950. However, it was not the last time that the question was asked. National Public Radio (NPR) gives this bit of historical data.
In 1970, the Census Bureau began sending around two questionnaires: a short-form questionnaire to gather basic population information and a long form that asked detailed questions about everything from household income to plumbing. The short form went to most households in America. The long form was sent to a much smaller sample of households, 1 in 6. Most people didn’t get it.
Starting in 1970, questions about citizenship were included in the long-form questionnaire but not the short form. For instance, in 2000, those who received the long form were asked, “Is this person a CITIZEN of the United States?”
The short form kept it simple: name, relationship, age, sex, Hispanic origin, race, marital status and whether the home is owned or rented.
Later, the census added the American Community Survey, conducted every year and sent to 3.5 million households. It began being fully implemented in 2005. It asks many of the same questions as the census long-form surveys from 1970 to 2000, including the citizenship question….
But if the 2020 census form does ultimately ask about citizenship status, it will be the first time the U.S. census has directly asked for the citizenship status of every person living in every household.
The Enumeration Clause declares that the people are to be counted in order to know how the 435 members of the U.S. House should be distributed, but it does not indicate whether the representation is based on number of citizens or number of residents. However, other sources do.
Amendment Fourteen, Section 1, gives greater clarification: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
David B. Rivkin Jr. and Gilson B. Gray at The Wall Street Journal say that “The Constitution itself requires the collection of citizenship information” and that “The president should issue an executive order” to put the citizenship question back on the census form. They base their ideas on the Fourteenth Amendment.
Section 2 of the 14th Amendment provides that if a state denies the franchise to anyone eligible to vote, its allotment of House seats shall be “reduced in the proportion which the number of such . . . citizens shall bear to the whole number of . . . citizens . . . in such state.” This language is absolute and mandatory. Compliance is impossible without counting how many citizens live in each state.
The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868, and this provision meant to secure the voting rights of newly freed slaves. But it wasn’t limited to that purpose. An earlier version of Section 2, introduced in 1865, specifically referred to limits on suffrage based on “race or color,” but the Senate rejected that limitation. The amendment forbids state interference with the rights of all eligible voters (then limited to males over 21).
Section 2 also applies to every state, a point Rep. John Bingham, the amendment’s principal drafter, emphasized during the floor debate: “The second section . . . simply provides for the equalization of representation among all the States in the Union, North, South, East, and West. It makes no discrimination.”
Congress has dealt with suffrage-abridgement problems through other constitutional and statutory means, especially the Voting Rights Act. But that doesn’t change the constitutional obligation to obtain citizenship data….
The president should issue an executive order stating that, to comply with the requirements of Section 2 of the 14th Amendment, the citizenship question will be added to the 2020 census. In addition, he can order the Commerce Department to undertake, on an emergency basis, a new Census Act rulemaking.
A new Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll says that “Sixty-seven percent of voters said the census should be able to ask whether people living in the U.S. are citizens.” It also says that the “inclusion of the question was supported among members of both parties, with 88 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats supporting its inclusion. Sixty-three percent of independents said they supported including the question on the census.”
I do not know if the President reads The Wall Street Journal, but I hope that his advisors know what the Constitution and its Amendments say. I appreciate the fact that they have not yet ended the search for a solution for putting the citizenship question on the census. I was not polled, but I am among those Americans who believe that the citizenship question should be on every census.