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Thursday, October 29, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Robert Bennett (R-UT) want the 2010 census to take account of the citizenship status of the persons being counted.

This is no small issue, as the NYT notes:  California Would Lose Seats Under Census Change.

A Republican senator’s proposal to count only United States citizens when reapportioning Congress would cost California five seats and New York and Illinois one each, according to an independent analysis of census data released Tuesday. Texas, which is projected to gain three seats after the 2010 census, would get only one.

The proposed change would spare Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania the expected loss of one seat each. Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and South Carolina would each gain a seat.

If every resident — citizens and noncitizens alike — is counted in 2010, as the Census Bureau usually does, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Utah would gain one seat each and Texas would get three, the analysis found.

Losing one seat each would be Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to the analysis of census data through 2008 by demographers at Queens College of theCity University of New York.

I must confess, my unconscious assumption was that apportionment for the House was based on citizens, not just residents.  However, upon being asked about the Vitter proposal in class yesterday, I decided to look into it and find that, in fact, the census simply counts persons and does not ask about their citizenship status.

Looking to the US Constitution would explain why this is the case, as it does not mention citizenship in regards to the census, but refers simply to “counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed” (Section 2 of the XIVth amendment, which alters Article 1, section 2).   Indeed, the only delineators mentioned in the Constitutions are 1)  the free/not free division in the original language (the infamous 3/5ths Compromise later amended out of the Constitution by the XIVth), and 2) the “Indians not taxed” cited above.  As such, if one takes a plain reading interpretation of the language, it would appear that what the census is supposed to do is simply count people, regardless of their citizenship status.  It is worth noting that citizenship is specifically in section 1 of the amendment and  is further mentioned in section 2, so it isn’t as if the authors of the provisions weren’t thinking about the topic.

One thing that it is noteworthy in this coverage of this issue is that most stories focus heavily on illegal immigrants and their effect on the census.  However, it would seem to me that the more relevant population would be legal immigrants, as they are more likely to respond to the surveys and there are more of them.

In practical terms it is a non-starter, as passing the provision would require members of Congress from places like California, Florida, and Texas to vote against their states’ interests.

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One Response to “Census Politics”

  1. Barry Says:

    “As such, if one takes a plain reading interpretation of the language, it would appear that what the census is supposed to do is simply count people, regardless of their citizenship status. ”

    Watch the GOP drop that ‘plain reading’ thing, if it suits their interests (in this case, I agree with you, because it’d require Texas GOPers to vote against their own interests).


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