The census is one of the most important aspects of American democracy, as Roger Sollenberger detailed in Paste last year when Trump announced a plan to consolidate the Census Bureau into the Commerce Department:
We know the Census counts Americans every ten years. Those numbers are used to calculate critical political thresholds, such as the number of electoral votes a state has and the number of representatives a state sends to Congress. The Census also collects and analyzes a ton of other data on Americans, some of the most important being economic, such as how many Americans live in poverty. In turn the government uses those numbers to determine how many people are eligible for federal assistance programs, such as SNAP (food stamps), Medicare, CHIP, and how much people save on marketplace health insurance.
In other words, the livelihood and longevity of the poorest among us hangs on Census data.
One judge already ruled against Trump’s plan to add a citizenship question to the Census, and today, another judge issued a court order to block that question as well. Per U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg:
The formal decision by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr. on March 26, 2018 to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and the Enumeration Clause of the United States Constitution. Nearly a year before issuing that decision, on May 2, 2017, Secretary Ross sent an email to Deputy Chief of Staff Earl Comstock stating in part “I am mystified why nothing [has] been done in response to my months old request that we include the citizenship question. Why not?” What ensued was a cynical search to find some reason, any reason, or an agency request to justify that preordained result.
It may seem mundane given the dry nomenclature of legalese, but that is an extremely scathing opinion by a judge. Seeborg didn’t stop there, even going so far as to say that “In short, the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census threatens the very foundation of our democratic system—and does so based on a self-defeating rationale.”
The Census is how we know things about America. Putting a question as to whether someone is a citizen on the Census (information which the government already knows) is a transparent attempt to get immigrants and people unsure of their legal status to not submit to the Census—that way when Trump goes to make policies based off Census information, it won’t contain facts about some of the most vulnerable people among us. This is a deliberate attempt to strip people of their rights, and while history has demonstrated that the courts are far from liberal allies, in this instance, it is nice to have a branch of government dedicated to stopping the outright authoritarianism of the Trump administration and the Republican Party.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.