Social Explorer's co-founder and president Andrew Beveridge appeared on CNN's Smerconish Show along with Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School this weekend to discuss the ramifications of adding a question about citizenship to the Decennial Census.
Host Michael Smerconish introduced the citizenship question issue:
If the Justice Department gets its way, the census takers who go door to door in 2020 will be asking a new question--one about citizenship. The change, which has to be decided by the end of March, has far-reaching implications. Whether that question is asked could actually tip the balance of power toward rural areas should non-citizens decline particiapte out of fear of acknowledging their status. The Justice Department says it needs the information to assist with the enforcement of the Voting RIghts Act. Skeptics worry the intent is to produce an undercount of communities with large undocumented populations. Lawyers at the Commerce Department are evaluating the legal basis for the question.
As background, the United States Census is a decennial census mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The Constitution goes on to specify the counting:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall 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.
Ever since the 14th Amendment, of course, each individual in America was counted as a whole person, but some forces are trying to remove certain groups from being counted for redistricting purposes.
Smerconish began with a discussion of the Evenwel v. Abbott Supreme Court case that challenged the way children and non-citizens are counted for congressional district populations. (Social Explorer's Webby Award-winning interactive visualization project of the case is available here.)
Beveridge discussed the prospect of Evenwel being revisited and the history of Republican challenges to census counts. He also detailed the areas of the country that would see the largest population count shifts under the proposed new rule and the potential change in reapportionment rules.
To answer how the addition of the citizenship question would ultimately be decided, Beveridge said:
Part of it will be decided by the Supreme Court, part of it will be decided by the not yet appointed director of the Census Bureau, and part of it ultimately is decided by congress...
It's a very dynamic situation and if you think about who might wind up on the Supreme Court if Trump sticks it out, this could have a radical effect...
He goes on to discuss how the Republican redistrictors feel they've exhausted partisan gerrymandering and that the Census survey question and legal challenges to district population counts represent different prongs of their strategy. At the same time, just as recent gerrymandering court decisions have shown, there could also be a swing back and we could have fairer redistricting going forward.
Learn more about the Social Explorer's Evenwel visualization project and how a change to counting citizens of voting age only could dramatically affect representation.