Immigration and Citizenship

RELEASE: New Issue Brief: The Census Clause and the Constitutional Obligation to Count All Persons

Cornerstone of Our Democracy details the rich text and complicated history of the Census Clause, from the debates over the original Constitution and the Three-Fifths Clause, through the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment.

WASHINGTON—Following a letter that Constitutional Accountability Center sent to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross last month—explaining that inserting a question into the U.S. Census that asks all respondents about their citizenship status “threatens to undermine your constitutional duty to ensure that the 2020 Census counts all of the nation’s people”—today CAC is releasing a new Issue Brief, The Cornerstone of Our Democracy: The Census Clause and the Constitutional Obligation to Count All Persons.

“Secretary Ross is expected to make a decision by the end of this month on whether to include a citizenship question in the Census,” said CAC Civil Rights Director David Gans, author of the Issue Brief. “A mandatory citizenship question would be an end-run around the Constitution’s text, history, and values. It cannot be squared with the federal government’s constitutional obligation to ensure a national count of all persons—regardless of where they are from or their immigration status.”

Cornerstone of Our Democracy details the rich text and complicated history of the Census Clause, from the debates over the original Constitution and the Three-Fifths Clause, through the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment. As these debates show, the Constitution requires counting the “whole body of the people” no matter their immigration status. As the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment insisted, the “whole immigrant population should be numbered with the people and counted as part of them.” A mandatory citizenship question would be inconsistent with the duty to count all persons, reflected in these critical provisions. The Issue Brief reads, in part:

Despite the important role the Census plays in our constitutional order, President Donald Trump’s administration is threatening to undermine the fairness and accuracy of the 2020 decennial census. On December 12, 2017, the Department of Justice urged the Department of Commerce to add a new, untested question to the census, asking all persons residing in the United States to divulge their citizenship status. This new question, if it becomes a part of the 2020 Census, will deter participation by immigrants across the country, who do not want an official record of their immigration status and fear that their responses will be used by the government to harm them and their families….

Far from simply a computational error, failing to count all persons in the United States—as our Constitution requires—would be enormously damaging. It would undermine our democracy and shortchange undercounted communities, leaving them without the federal funds they need for infrastructure, schools, and other vital services. The Census occurs only once every ten years, and there are no do-overs. Thus, our nation would suffer the consequences of an unfair, inaccurate count for at least the next ten years, and possibly much longer. The repercussions of an unfair, inaccurate count are immense….

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Resources:

The Cornerstone of our Democracy: The Census Clause and the Constitutional Obligation to Count All Persons, David Gans, CAC Issue Brief, March 19, 2018: https://www.theusconstitution.org/think_tank/cornerstone-democracy-census-clause-constitutional-obligation-count-persons/

“Count all the people, just as the Constitution says,” David Gans, San Antonio Express-News, March 9, 2018: https://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Count-all-the-people-just-as-the-Constitution-12742298.php

CAC Letter to Wilbur Ross, U.S. Secretary of Commerce: Census Citizenship Question “Threatens to Undermine Your Constitutional Duty,” February 15, 2018: https://www.theusconstitution.org/news/release-letter-secretary-ross-census-citizenship-question-threatens-undermine-constitutional-duty/

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Now in our tenth year, Constitutional Accountability Center is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. Visit the new CAC website at www.theusconstitution.org

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