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

Monday, July 1, 2019

Supreme Court Punts Yet Again on Gerrymandering

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on two cases of particular interest to demographers: (1) forbidding for the time being the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census (as I have already blogged about); and (2) the use of demographic data to draw congressional district boundaries that benefit one political party at the expense of the other. The majority opinion of the Supreme Court on the latter issue was that justices were really not in a position to do much about this.  They argued that this was an issue to be worked out with appropriate legislation, rather than being adjudicated by the courts. Here's how the Washington Post summarized their thinking:
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that federal judges have no power to stop politicians from drawing electoral districts to preserve or expand their party’s power, a landmark ruling that dissenters said will empower an explosion of extreme partisan gerrymandering. 
The 5-to-4 decision was written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and joined by the court’s other conservatives. It capped decades of debate about whether federal courts have a role in policing partisan efforts to draw electoral districts in the same way the judiciary protects against racial discrimination. 
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Roberts wrote. “Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.”
The dissenting opinion was read in the court by Justice Elena Kagan who noted that “The gerrymanders here — and others like them — violated the constitutional rights of many hundreds of thousands of American citizens,” she said.

It was about this time last year when the Supreme Court last punted on the gerrymandering issue in cases brought against partisan boundaries drawn in Texas and North Carolina, as I blogged about at the time. This year's decision revisited North Carolina and also included Maryland.

Given the current composition of the Supreme Court, it seems unlikely that we are going to get a different result from them any time soon. It also strikes me as unlikely that Congress will do anything about this any time soon. That suggests that the only way to ensure the drawing of fair congressional district boundaries is for more states to have an independent districting commission, as we have here in California, rather than having the legislature make those decisions (which is typical and which, of course, favors the political party with the majority of votes).

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...