The Census Citizenship Question Hurts Texas

On April 23, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of U.S. Department of Commerce v New York. The Supreme Court will have to decide whether the Trump Administration will be allowed to include a question concerning citizenship in the 2020 Census.

The evidence before the Court proves conclusively that inclusion of the citizenship question will cause about 6.5 million people to not be counted due to fear and uncertainty about answering the question. This is vitally important because the Constitution requires an “actual enumeration” of people (regardless of citizenship) and the U.S. House of Representatives is then apportioned based on “the whole number of persons in each state.” It is also true that federal dollars are apportioned based upon the population of states as established by the census.

It is no secret that Texas is home to a large number of non-citizens. Consequently, Texas will be deprived of it’s rightful share of representation in Congress and of the money it needs and is entitled to receive from the federal government. If that is so, and it is, why then do Trump and Republicans insist on inclusion of this question?

The answer, as always, is gaining and holding on to political power at any cost. Most undocumented residents live in urban areas where Democrats tend to out perform Republicans. By undercounting the population in urban areas, which results in those areas being under represented in Congress, federal political power is skewed away from urban areas and toward rural areas where Republicans typically predominate.

There is also the ever present goal of gerrymandering. As said by The New York Times, “Knowing the number and location of noncitizens would allow states to exclude them from the population totals that are used after every census to redraw the Nation’s political maps”. Gerrymandering political districts ensures that the party in power will stay in power. It is also primarily responsible for the political gridlock we are now experiencing.

This issue is of critical importance to Texas because 1 in 10 Texans is a noncitizen, but in Houston (and, probably in other metropolitan areas such as San Antonio) the number is closer to 1 in 6, which means 1.1 million of 6.8 million residents, a half million of which are undocumented. Nationwide, the United States has about 22 million non-citizens, and about half are undocumented.

The evidence is overwhelming that inclusion of this question will result in a massive undercount. That being true, the Trump Administration had to come up with a justification for doing it. Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, shopped around various federal agencies for reasons. After being told there was no need for the question, Ross ultimately seized upon a specious claim to the effect that data about citizenship would help “enforce” the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In considering the validity of this justification, it is helpful to keep in mind all the legal efforts made by Republicans in southern states in the recent past to end oversight of elections by the federal government under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The flimsiness and hypocrisy of the Trump Administration’s official explanation and justification was surely evident to all the Justices but, according to those who witnessed the oral arguments, it appeared that all 5 Republican Justices were willing to go along with it and allow the question to be asked. The days of judicial hyper-partisanship are upon us and here to stay.

Texas will pay a huge price for this political gamesmanship.

For more detailed discussion of this issue that uses Texas and Houston as examples, see the article, “Case Has the Potential to Alter Voting Maps, and American Politics,” in The New York Times of April 24, 2019.