This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Supreme Court Says "Not Yet" to the Citizenship Question on the Census--UPDATED YET AGAIN

Back in January of 2018 I first blogged about the attempt by the Trump administration to insert a question on citizenship into the 100 percent form of the 2020 census, claiming that it was necessary in order to properly monitor the Voting Rights Act and thus protect minority voters. It seemed apparent at the time that this was a ploy by Republicans to intimidate undocumented immigrants from responding to the census form, thus skewing the population counts in immigrant-heavy areas. Remember that the U.S. Constitution mandates a decennial census enumeration of the entire population for the purpose of apportioning seats to the House of Representatives. To be sure, the issue of undocumented immigrants was unlikely to have been on the minds of the framers of the Constitution, but that doesn't matter. It would be up to Congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution if it was believed that fewer than all residents in an area should be included in the census.

A long battle broke out as several states sued the government to keep the question off the census form. In January of this year, a federal judge in New York ruled in favor of the states and the government appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which agreed to take the case. Shortly before the Supreme Court was to make its decision, new information surfaced from the hard drive of a now-deceased Republican operative making it clear that responses to the citizenship question would allow innovations in congressional redistricting that would favor Republican candidates. This information was provided to the Supreme Court and almost certainly influenced their decision this week that forbids the Census Bureau from adding the citizenship question--at least until the Commerce Department comes up with a better reason than they have thus far provided. The question that remains is whether the Commerce Department will try to do that. As NPR reported today, the timing is crucial because we are getting ever closer to Census Day:
The Census Bureau has said the printing of 1.5 billion paper forms, letters and other mailings is scheduled to start by July 1. But while testifying for the citizenship question lawsuits last year, Census Bureau officials said that "with exceptional effort and additional resources," the deadline for finalizing forms could be pushed back to Oct. 31.
The Trump administration responded to this week's Supreme Court ruling by suggesting that the census might be delayed (presumably to allow time to come up with a better excuse for adding the citizenship question), but it isn't clear whether or not that could done legally. Here are the constraints, as laid out by the NPR report:
Since the 1930 count, federal law has set Census Day as April 1, although households in some parts of the country, including rural Alaska, are counted earlier. 
Next year, the Census Bureau is legally required to report each state's new population numbers by the end of December.
So, although it would have been nice if the Supreme Court decision had been definitive, we are unfortunately left in the position of still having to wait and see what is going to happen to the 2020 Census. 

UPDATE: It turns out that we didn't have to wait long to see what would happen. The Trump administration has just announced that they are dropping their efforts to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census. Great news!!!!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Oops, not so fast. Trump tweeted today that he did, in fact, want that citizenship question on the census, and so the Justice Department has just reversed course. Bad news!!! Stay tuned...