AP NEWS

Another blow on citizenship question

March 11, 2019

Another court ruling makes clear that the Trump administration’s reasons for an attempted insertion of a citizenship question in the U.S. census were contrived — as in, built on what amount to lies. And, disturbingly, the ruling also points to the certainty that the question’s intent is to achieve an undercount specifically to maintain and broaden one party’s dominance.

How does it do that? An undercount undermines one key function of the census. The count, aside from determining federal spending in the states, also is used to determine each state’s representation in Congress and the number of Electoral College votes. A census that fails to accurately count, say, immigrants — even if they’re not documented — will mean less representation for those states with high immigration populations.

Think Texas, California and other Southwestern and Western states. But the fact is that immigrants, documented or otherwise, are everywhere. They are, however, concentrated in a handful of states.

A citizenship question in the census can’t help but dampen response both from households solely with undocumented immigrants in them and households with legal residents but which also contain undocumented relatives. And in some cases, this will mean even citizens aren’t counted in those households with undocumented immigrant parents and citizen children.

This chilling effect on participation is a certainty in these fevered times on immigration. The president’s us-them, they’re-all-criminals rhetoric and his zero tolerance and deportation policies are fresh in memory.

In these communities, there will be absolutely no confidence that the census will remain anonymous, nor that the data won’t be used to target immigrants. The commerce secretary made what the court described as “bad faith” rationales for the question. Instilling this fear, it’s clear, was the point.

The Constitution is even clearer on another point. It says the census should count every person, not just those eligible to vote, as in just native-born and naturalized citizens.

The administration may be attempting an end run around the courts with a pending agreement — first reported by the Associated Press — between the Census Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security that the latter agency share its data on noncitizens. The agreement stipulates that the Census Bureau cannot share that information with other agencies, but there will simply be no trust that this will be honored. The mere existence of this deal will undermine such confidence amid fears that the Census Bureau will craft a noncitizen registry.

As with a previous court ruling in New York, this ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco slams Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for essentially lying about why the citizenship question was necessary. He initially said it was at the Justice Department’s request to help it in applying the Voting Rights Act.

It soon became plain that he asked the Justice Department to make the request and that Census Bureau analysts believed the question would hurt an accurate count.

This latest ruling goes a step further than the previous one. It found a breach of the Constitution’s enumeration clause. The U.S. Supreme Court was already scheduled to hear an appeal on the New York ruling next month. It might now consider the constitutionality question. It should.

So, if Texas is a state with a high concentration of immigrants, why would it not be leading the charge against this citizenship question? For the answer to that, one need look no further than the state leadership’s efforts for years to stay Republican red — a voter ID law, third-party voter registration rules and gerrymandering, to name a few.

But there is a larger question here. On voter ID and gerrymandering alone, various courts have laid bare the discriminatory intent to restrict voting of those likely to vote Democratic — think not just minorities but young people.

This evidence of intent will exist even if the U.S. Supreme Court — stacked with conservative justices, thanks in part to a GOP Senate’s refusal to act on an Obama nominee — overturns these rulings. Where is the outrage over intentional discrimination by elected officials and public entities?

Our hope is that the Supreme Court majority not find some expedient justification in the law’s technicalities to paper over the unforgivable, but that it look at what is hiding in plain sight — that intentional discrimination.

In the case of the census and for voting laws and redistricting, the desire to maintain political dominance should have no place.