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Washington - In Losing Legal Battles Over Census, Trump May Win Political War

Published on: July 8, 2019 12:00 PM
By: Reuters
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T-shirts are displayed at a community activists and local government leaders event to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019.   REUTERS/Brian SnyderT-shirts are displayed at a community activists and local government leaders event to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Washington - The Trump administration has few realistic options to get a citizenship question onto next year’s census, but by keeping the issue in the public eye it could still trigger an undercount of residents in Democratic-leaning areas, legal and political experts told Reuters.

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Constant media coverage linking citizenship and census forms could scare undocumented immigrants away from responding and rally U.S. President Donald Trump’s base to participate, they said. That, in turn, would help redraw voting districts across the country in favor of his Republican party, encouraging the president to pursue a legal battle that he has little chance of winning.

The latest parlay came on Sunday evening, when the U.S. Department of Justice installed a new team of lawyers to handle the last iterations of litigation that has been going on for more than a year.

“Even if the question is (taken) off, if people are tweeting as if it may be a real possibility, it continues to raise fears and depress the count,” said Thomas Wolf, a lawyer who focuses on census issues at the Brennan Center for Justice.

The U.S. Constitution requires the government to count all residents - whatever their legal status - every 10 years. The information collected becomes the basis for voting maps and distributing some $800 billion in federal funds each year.

It is illegal for the Census Bureau to share information about individuals with law enforcement or immigration authorities. But the idea of asking residents about citizenship status has nonetheless stoked fears that the survey would become a tool for the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies.

The president and his allies have said it is important to know about citizenship status, and characterized the question as something that should not draw controversy.

“So important for our Country that the very simple and basic ‘Are you a Citizen of the United States?’ question be allowed to be asked in the 2020 Census,” the president tweeted on July 4.

A Reuters poll earlier this year also showed 66% of Americans support its inclusion.

But demographers, advocacy groups, corporations and even the Census Bureau’s own staff have said the citizenship question threatens to undermine the survey.

Communities with high immigrant and Latino populations could have low response rates. Researchers have estimated that more than 4 million people out of a total U.S. population of some 330 million may not participate.

That would benefit non-Hispanic whites, a core part of Trump’s support, and help Republicans gain seats in Congress and state legislatures, critics have said.

The question seemed dead in June, when the Supreme Court blocked it, saying the administration had given a “contrived” rationale for its inclusion.

However, the high court left open the possibility that the administration could offer a plausible rationale. Department of Justice lawyers said on Friday that they were exploring other explanations. Trump also said he may try to force it into the survey through an executive order.

Legal experts immediately slapped down the ideas. It will be hard to convince justices that a new explanation is not also contrived, and an executive order would not override the Supreme Court decision or undo other court orders blocking the citizenship question, they said.

“There is nothing talismanic about an executive order,” said a statement from Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of MALDEF, a Latino rights group pursuing one of the cases against the administration. “Our government is not a dictatorship.”

Trump also said on Friday that although census forms are already being printed, the government could later produce “an addendum.”

It is not clear how that might work, but census experts said it would be an unprecedented disruption to a process that has been in motion for years.

“Any suggestion that on a moment’s notice the Census Bureau could add an extra piece of paper with an additional question to a census that it has been planning literally for a decade demonstrates a breathtaking ignorance of what it takes to pull off a census,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census consultant.

An addendum would also likely be challenged in courts for running afoul of various administrative laws.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/motion-amend to prevent the citizenship question from being added.

In the meantime, attention surrounding the legal debacle may already be hurting the census and helping Trump achieve his goals, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“The longer he has this conversation, the worse it is for an accurate census count,” she said.



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Read Comments (9)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jul 08, 2019 at 12:34 PM Cixelsyd_Wnosanoy Says:

Imagine...only "Liberals" (said with a sneer some reserve for pedophiles) would dare accuse Trump and his Party of being anti-democratic.

No further questions, Your Honor.

2

 Jul 08, 2019 at 12:46 PM georgeg Says:

Here in Canada the census has included a citizenship question for a century and never caused controversy. To me the question is why the US really took it out of the census after 1950 (some form of citizenship was on the standard U.S. census ever since 1820, that is 130 years - why did they need it then?). The citizenship question was added back in 1970 for one out of 20 households, and that changed to one out of 6 or 5 households in later years.

3

 Jul 08, 2019 at 01:55 PM Cixelsyd_Wnosanoy Says:

Reply to #2  
georgeg Says:

Here in Canada the census has included a citizenship question for a century and never caused controversy. To me the question is why the US really took it out of the census after 1950 (some form of citizenship was on the standard U.S. census ever since 1820, that is 130 years - why did they need it then?). The citizenship question was added back in 1970 for one out of 20 households, and that changed to one out of 6 or 5 households in later years.

It would not be an issue here if immigration status had not been "weaponized," with the accompanying fear of immediate arrest, family separation and deportation under the conditions now present in the United States; that's according to two census authorities I heard interviewed on NPR.

4

 Jul 08, 2019 at 02:30 PM JohnJay Says:

When morally bankrupt trumpf loses big in the Supreme Court he loses worse politically. Leaders should lead for the GOOD of the people, not for the HATE of minorities or the downtrodden immigrants this xenophobe hates. Remember his defeat in the last mid-term elections. Was that anotber of the hoont's political victories?

5

 Jul 08, 2019 at 02:40 PM dullradiance Says:

Why is this a big deal?
From the article "Researchers have estimated that more than 4 million people out of a total U.S. population of some 330 million may not participate." That works out to an ESTIMATED less that 2% of the population that may not participate.
On the other hand, FACTUALLY, in the 2016 presidential election 35% of registered voters DID NOT PARTICIPATE! In 2012 42% did not participate. In 2008 35% of registered voters did not participate.
Don't get me started on off year elections.

6

 Jul 08, 2019 at 05:06 PM yaakov doe Says:

Reply to #5  
dullradiance Says:

Why is this a big deal?
From the article "Researchers have estimated that more than 4 million people out of a total U.S. population of some 330 million may not participate." That works out to an ESTIMATED less that 2% of the population that may not participate.
On the other hand, FACTUALLY, in the 2016 presidential election 35% of registered voters DID NOT PARTICIPATE! In 2012 42% did not participate. In 2008 35% of registered voters did not participate.
Don't get me started on off year elections.

Comparing participation in the census to elections is like comparing bananas to watermelons or star fruit to pineapples.

7

 Jul 08, 2019 at 05:27 PM Educated Archy Says:

Reply to #1  
Cixelsyd_Wnosanoy Says:

Imagine...only "Liberals" (said with a sneer some reserve for pedophiles) would dare accuse Trump and his Party of being anti-democratic.

No further questions, Your Honor.

Just curious can we spam the census with multiple names like you do on VIN?

lets just fill out 20 forms

8

 Jul 08, 2019 at 05:58 PM Cixelsyd_Wnosanoy Says:

Reply to #5  
dullradiance Says:

Why is this a big deal?
From the article "Researchers have estimated that more than 4 million people out of a total U.S. population of some 330 million may not participate." That works out to an ESTIMATED less that 2% of the population that may not participate.
On the other hand, FACTUALLY, in the 2016 presidential election 35% of registered voters DID NOT PARTICIPATE! In 2012 42% did not participate. In 2008 35% of registered voters did not participate.
Don't get me started on off year elections.

It’s a big deal in States with large immigrant populations, such as NY, where it is estimated that two or more Congressional seats could be lost due to undercounts related to the citizenship question.

9

 Jul 09, 2019 at 06:09 AM Shlomo-1 Says:

Reply to #5  
dullradiance Says:

Why is this a big deal?
From the article "Researchers have estimated that more than 4 million people out of a total U.S. population of some 330 million may not participate." That works out to an ESTIMATED less that 2% of the population that may not participate.
On the other hand, FACTUALLY, in the 2016 presidential election 35% of registered voters DID NOT PARTICIPATE! In 2012 42% did not participate. In 2008 35% of registered voters did not participate.
Don't get me started on off year elections.

Because the 2% is concentrated in certain areas.

10

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