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Stand Up And Be Counted: The 2020 Census

Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 census.
Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 census.

The New York Times called Thomas B. Hofeller “the Michelangelo of gerrymandering.”

But documents newly revealed Hofeller’s prominent role in the raging debate over adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census.

NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang reported that Hofeller “concluded in a 2015 report that adding the question would produce the data needed to redraw political maps that would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” according to a court filing released Thursday.

What does the census do?

From census.gov:

The data collected by the decennial census determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is also used to distribute billions in federal funds to local communities.

The census tells us who we are and where we are going as a nation, and helps our communities determine where to build everything from schools to supermarkets, and from homes to hospitals. It helps the government decide how to distribute funds and assistance to states and localities. It is also used to draw the lines of legislative districts and reapportion the seats each State holds in Congress.

So yeah, it’s important.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at first said that the Department of Justice had asked for the addition of the question so that it could enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. But The Washington Post reports that both census experts and voting rights advocates suggest the question isn’t necessary.

And later, Secretary Ross backtracked after reports emerged that he had actually discussed the potential inclusion of the question with former White House adviser Steve Bannon, and that he had been searching for a way to get the question on the form previously.

Here’s Ari Berman, writing for Mother Jones on what could happen if the question is allowed:

A citizenship question is expected to deter many immigrants and Latinos from responding to the census. That—especially if combined with an effort to exclude noncitizens from being counted in redistricting—would result in a huge transfer of economic and political power to whiter and more Republicans areas.

And the fight over whether to add the citizenship question has gone all the way up to the Supreme Court, which is likely to rule on the proposed addition within the next couple weeks.

Back in April, Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak went on The Daily to discuss the potential outcomes. At the time, this is how he said the court might rule:

I expect, probably, on the last day of the term, in the last week of June, for the Supreme Court to do the predictable thing, which is by a 5 to 4 vote, with all the Republican appointees in the majority and all the Democratic appointees in dissent, for the court to endorse the addition of the citizenship question to the census. And that will not be a particularly satisfying outcome for people who would hope the court could find a way to look less political.

But that was before these documents were filed to the court. Could they change the outcome of the ruling?

One more note: We invited a representative from the Census Bureau to join us. They declined but sent a statement.

“The Census Bureau conducts the census it is charged with completing. We are laser focused on a complete and accurate count. State and local officials use census counts to redraw boundaries for districts like congressional districts, state legislative districts, and school districts. The Census Bureau does not redraw district lines.

The law protects every response to every question. By law, your responses are confidential and cannot be used against you in any way. We are developing a robust communications campaign and working with communities across the country to communicate that responding to the census is safe, easy, and important. It is important for every person in every community to respond.”

We’re getting our pencils out and going deep on the census.

Produced by Paige Osburn.


Hansi Lo Wang, National reporter covering the Census, NPR;@hansilowang

David Daley, Senior fellow, Fairvote; author, “Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy”; former editor-in-chief, Salon.com; @davedaley3

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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