Do you want Trump to be involved in determining how many legislators your state will have in Congress? Well, that’s one outcome if Trump gets his way with the Census. Thankfully, a judge ruled against their ploy yesterday. But the story is far from over.
What does the Census have to do with Congress?
The Census counts all the residents in the United States every 10 years. You’ll notice that I say residents, not citizens. This is important. The next census will be taken in 2020. Once that data is collected, and the government knows where the population shifts have been, each state will have the number of Representatives in Congress re-assessed. Some states will GAIN reps, others will LOSE reps, and some states will see no change.
The danger with any census is under-counting. If you don’t correctly capture the number of residents in the states, you may assign fewer representatives than the state needs. Furthermore, federal funding flows to the states based on its population, so under-counting could mean less money for public schools, health care programs, public transportation, etc.
What is Trump trying to do with the Census?
In the Trump administration, it is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who oversees the Census. The administration wants to include a citizenship question to the Census–i.e. asking every participant to identify whether or not they are a citizen. After the 1950 Census, the citizenship question was dropped as there was an understanding that residents were routinely undercounted when it was included.
It should come as no surprise that the Trump administration wants to add the citizenship question back in. Undercounting largely immigrant communities helps in two ways: 1) fewer residents being counted mean less representation in Congress, and 2) fewer federal dollars will be directed towards those communities. Ari Berman has a great, and quick, explainer video here:
What happened in court?
As soon as it became known that Sect. Ross wanted to add the citizenship question back into the Census, a bunch of states sued. One of those states was New York. In that case, the judge just ruled that the administration could NOT include the citizenship question.
From Vox: “Judge Jesse M. Furman of the Southern District of New York found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated federal law by misleading the public — and his own department — about the reasons for adding the question, which would have forced everyone taking the census to answer whether or not they and others in their household are US citizens.”
Improbably, Sect. Ross had argued that adding the citizenship question would help them better enforce the Voting Rights Act. I mean, really. Has this administration shown any interest at all in enforcing the VRA? Most definitely not.
Although this decision is a severe blow to the administration, we can probably count on them to appeal to a higher court. I will add that people who understand court decisions think this ruling is likely the death knell for the citizenship question, so that’s good, but do remember that it isn’t over yet.