What The Hell Do You Have To Lose? Why Trump’s Census Question Matters

According to the White House (which is always suspect), the Jeff Sessions Justice Department requested a question about citizenship be added to the 2020 Census. The Census is conducted by the government every 10 years and among other things is used to allocate Congressional Districts and Federal resources to States. The Justice Department said:

“This data is critical to the Department’s enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and its important protections against racial discrimination in voting. To fully enforce those requirements, the Department needs a reliable calculation of the citizen voting-age population in localities where voting rights violations are alleged or suspected.”

Even the concept of this Justice Department looking to enforce the Voting Rights Act is laughable. In 2013, when the Supreme Court gutted the enforcement provisions of the Act, Sessions called it, “good news for the South.” He elsewhere claimed that Shelby County which sued to terminate enforcement provisions, “never had a history of denying the vote, certainly not now.” Sessions did famously take credit for Civil Rights prosecutions while he was the Alabama Attorney General, in which he played no role.

The Citizenship question has appeared on the Census before, though not on the long form given to the general public since 1950. My first question was, how has the citizenship information been used in the past? My research provided no answer but in today’s Washington Post it was revealed that the Census Bureau provided block by block data on the location of Japanese-Americans living in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Arkansas.

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For decades the Census Bureau denied its participation and that it had released confidential information but not so surprisingly they lied. Ask yourself, would Donald Trump and/or Jeff Sessions feel a bit of remorse about using census data to round up undocumented aliens? In 2007, the proof was discovered that the Commerce Department had lists with names and addresses of those with Japanese ancestry. The Second War Powers Act made the release of that information between agencies legal if not moral. The Census Bureau refrain has changed from “we didn’t do it” to “it wasn’t illegal.”

The basis for much of the criticism of the citizenship question is that fears that the government will do what it is now known already has, will lead to a significant undercount. That will redistribute resources and Congressional seats from blue states to red ones and possibly impact control of the House of Representatives. Of course, if you acknowledge an undocumented person is in your home, the government might come to your door. If they’ve done it before, why would we believe that this President and Attorney General wouldn’t do it again?