US Supreme Court Considering Census Citizenship Question

US Supreme Court Considering Census Citizenship Question

April 23, 2019, 11:49 AM

US Supreme Court Considering Census Citizenship Question

FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, March 20, 2019.
FILE – The U.S. Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, March 20, 2019.


The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments Tuesday on whether the country's 2020 census should include a question on the citizenship of all the people living in the United States.

For the majority of the people filling out the once-a-decade census, the answer to such a question would be easy: They are Americans by birth or citizens by naturalization after arriving from other countries.

But President Donald Trump, who has embraced a tough stance against illegal immigration and pushed for construction of a wall on the southern border with Mexico to thwart the surge of migrants, also wants for the first time since 1950 to include the citizenship question in an attempt to count the number of undocumented migrants in the country.

The precise figure is not known, but demographers say it could total about 11 million of the 328 million people in the United States.

Reaching as accurate a total as possible is important in the U.S. because it determines how many lawmakers each of the 50 states has in the 435-member House of Representatives for the next 10 years and each state's share of more than $675 billion in federal funding for an array of government programs.


Accuracy at Core of Supreme Court Case Over Census Question

Three lower federal courts have blocked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, from adding the citizenship question, finding that millions of non-citizens, often Hispanics, might avoid the census-takers for fear of running afoul of immigration authorities. Trump critics contend the citizenship question is an attempt to try to diminish the number of Democratic lawmakers in the House, where Democrats took control in January.

Despite Ross's decision to add the question to the survey, Census Bureau experts concluded that excluding the citizenship question would produce a more accurate figure for the U.S. population because undocumented immigrants might be reluctant to admit they are not U.S. citizens and refuse to answer the questions.

The Census Bureau estimated that 6.5 million people would avoid answering the questions if the citizenship query were to be included.

The Trump administration says it has wide discretion in designing the questionnaire and notes that the citizenship question has been asked on smaller annual population surveys. It says the question is needed to aid in the enforcement of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Some of the largest states and cities and rights groups are arguing against inclusion of the question, fearing an undercount in the census would hurt their interests, either in determining congressional representation through the 2020's or in federal funding.


US House Committee Considers Subpoenas Over Census Citizenship Question

The Nielsen television ratings company said Monday it also opposes inclusion of the citizenship question, saying an undercount of the U.S. population would adversely affect the U.S. media industry and other businesses that depend on accurate readings of consumer sentiment. Nielsen said its measurements of business trends could be inaccurate for a decade with the question added to the census.

After Tuesday's hearing, the Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision by the end of June, giving the government enough time to print the census questionnaire before the April 2020 population count.

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