SCOTUS And The Census: Taking Up The Citizenship Question

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This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. (Michelle R. Smith, File/AP)
This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. (Michelle R. Smith, File/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

The Supreme Court will review a challenge to the citizenship question on the U.S. census. We look ahead to what's at stake.


Hansi Lo Wang, national correspondent for NPR who covers the 2020 census. (@hansilowang)

Mithun Mansinghani, solicitor general for Oklahoma. Helped file an amicus brief in support of the Department of Commerce.

Thomas Saenz, president of Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). Plaintiff in lawsuits regarding census question. (@MALDEF)

From The Reading List

New York Times: "The Supreme Court Will Soon Consider Whether the Census Will Include a Citizenship Question" — "The sixth sentence of the Constitution, and the first one that specifically tells the government to do something, established the census.

"It called for an 'actual enumeration' every 10 years and, since the end of slavery, requires answers to just two questions: 'How many people live in the United States?' and 'Where do they live?'

"The answers to those questions are the basis for American democracy, and much more. They determine, for instance, how congressional seats are allocated and where hundreds of billions of dollars of federal money are spent.

"Next week, the Supreme Court will consider whether the Trump administration may add a question about citizenship to the 2020 'short form' questionnaire — the one that goes to every household in the nation. Nobody seriously disputes that this will cause fewer people to participate and will undermine the basic constitutional goal of counting everyone."

NPR: "Census Bureau Must Be 'Totally Objective' On Citizenship Question, Director Says" — "Steven Dillingham, the new director of the U.S. Census Bureau, is refusing to step into the controversy surrounding a potential question for the upcoming national head count.

"The hotly contested question asks, 'Is this person a citizen of the United States?'

"On Monday, the morning of Dillingham's most public debut as the head of the federal government's largest statistical agency, President Trump issued his first tweet about the census and the citizenship question as commander in chief:

"'Can you believe that the Radical Left Democrats want to do our new and very important Census Report without the all important Citizenship Question. Report would be meaningless and a waste of the $Billions (ridiculous) that it costs to put together!'

"'I don't follow tweets, but a few minutes ago, someone mentioned that to me,' Dillingham told NPR in his first interview with a news organization since he was confirmed by the Senate in January.

"Dillingham said the bureau must remain 'totally objective' about the question.

"Multiple lawsuits filed by dozens of states, cities and other groups over the question have dragged the bureau into a yearlong legal battle. Two federal judges have ruled to block the administration's plans for the question — an issue that has now escalated to the Supreme Court."

Vox: "A judge has stopped the Trump administration from asking about citizenship in the census" — "A federal judge has struck down the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census.

"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.

"The census is supposed to be a count of everyone living in the United States — including noncitizens and even unauthorized immigrants — and the government is constitutionally required to use its count to make decisions about how many seats in Congress and electoral votes each state gets. The lawsuit over the citizenship question was filed by a coalition of blue states (led by New York) worried that asking about citizenship would discourage noncitizens from responding. A skewed undercount would understate the population of diverse states and deprive them of representation."

Grace Tatter produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on April 22, 2019.



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