The Census Citizenship Question: Why Does It Matter?

The Census Citizenship Question: Why Does It Matter?

By Susan Caba

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

Having a tough time keeping up with the controversy over adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census? No wonder—developments are fast and furious.

Here’s a bullet-list compilation, followed by suggestions for more reading to get you up to speed.

  • The census is important for a number of reasons. The counts are used to establish the number of Congressional representatives allotted to each state—some states gain and others lose representatives, based on the census. And federal dollars are distributed to the states based on those numbers.
  • Almost as soon as he was elected, President Donald Trump suggested asking everyone in the country whether or not they are citizens, as part of the 2020 S. census. Such a question hasn’t been asked since 1950.
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the information would be used to enforce the Voters Rights Act, and cut down on voting by non-citizens. (A commission appointed by President Trump found no evidence of voting by non-citizens.)
  • The American Civil Liberties Union, joined by some states, sued to prevent the addition of the question. They argued the real reason was to suppress the votes of minorities—especially Hispanics—and Democrats. Research, including from the Census Bureau, confirms as many as 5 million Hispanics would not be counted if a citizenship question is included. Hispanic areas would be most likely to lose representatives and federal money as a result.
  • Newly discovered information—on the hard-drive of a deceased Republican strategist—confirmed that adding the question “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” and would dilute the political power of Hispanics.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the reasons given by Ross to include the question were “contrived.”
  • That decision seemed to kill the issue, at least for the 2020 population count. But the Trump Administration hasn’t dropped its quest: President Trump says he might add the citizenship question by executive order. If he does, the result might be a Constitutional clash between the Executive and the Judicial branches of government.

Further Reading


What is the US census citizenship question? The controversy explained, published in The Guardian

Complicating Factors

Deceased G.O.P. Strategist’s Hard Drives Reveal New Details on the Census Citizenship Question, by Michael Wines, published in New York Times

Effects of Adding Question

Where a citizenship question could cause the census to miss millions of Hispanics, by Ted Mellnik and Kate Rabinowitz, published in the Washington Post


Why the Census Citizenship Question Matters, by Mike Hunter, attorney general of Oklahoma published in


Citizenship Question Meant to Suppress Count, Rig Census for Partisan Gain, by Alliance San Diego

Long-term Outcome

The Census Case Could Provoke a Constitutional Crisis, by Garrett Epps, professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, published in The Atlantic magazine


Susan Caba is an independent journalist who writes about politics, popular culture and leadership. She is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Leadership, Fast Track.

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