To most Americans, asking a person’s citizenship status on the census makes perfect sense. The purpose of the census is to gather information on the population, and perhaps the most important piece of information is whether a person is an American citizen. Due to the recent ruling of the Supreme Court in Department of Commerce v. New York, however, this question will not be included in the 2020 census.
Opponents of this question celebrate the decision, seeing it as a triumph of justice. From their perspective, the question of citizenship is racist, xenophobic, undemocratic, and a cynical ploy to seize power. As their “proof,” they cite the letter of sleazy political strategist Thomas Hofeller, who wrote that “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” would benefit from the inclusion of this question.
Somehow, it does not occur to any progressives why or how exactly Hofeller came to this conclusion. Why should Democrats be hurt by the question of citizenship, and not Republicans? Citizenship isn’t supposed to be partisan, so how does it benefit one side over the other?
In answering this question, even leftists concede that Democrats enjoy greater representation in all levels of government because they come from states and cities that have large non-American, often illegally present, populations. If the people from these constituencies decided not to respond to the census out of fear of being deported or harassed, Democrat-run states would lose representatives after the next reapportionment in 2020.
Generally, claiming that asking a person’s citizenship status is immoral and unjust is, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “pretextual” and covers up the fact that Democrats seriously fear the truth coming out about their inflated constituencies. Nevertheless, it’s worth exploring whether the given reasons against the citizenship question have any merit. Even if political strategists and politicians have their reasons for including it, the main controversy of the issue stems from the much bigger points of what it means to be American and how a representative republic in the 21st century is supposed to work.
Stop Playing the Race Card to Avoid a Discussion
To start, let’s consider the assertion that asking one’s citizenship is racist. In itself, this makes little sense since citizenship has nothing to do with race. Yet if people go a little further and follow the logic of Hofeller, they may find some kind of racism since a more accurate count of citizens may indirectly benefit Republicans, and some may consider this racist because most Republicans are presumably white.
Before people fall for this argument (and many on the left do), this line of reasoning can be applied to any idea. For example, laws against animal cruelty are racist because they benefit dogs and cats, and the owners of dogs and cats are mostly white. Subsidies for college loans are racist because they disproportionately benefit white students, who make up the majority of college students. In fact, any proposed solution for any First World problem is racist because the beneficiaries who live in those developed countries are mostly white.
The way around this apparent dilemma is to look at the product of an argument, not a possible byproduct. Animal cruelty laws are meant to protect animals; college subsidies are meant to help students of any color; and the citizenship question on the census is meant to provide more information about the current population in the United States. More information is not inherently racist, no matter who supposedly benefits more from it.
One may object that if the citizenship question is not racist, it is certainly xenophobic, seeing that it could take away political representation from noncitizens and even threaten their livelihood (if they are here illegally). However, this is incorrect on both counts: Noncitizens are still included in apportionment regardless of citizenship status, and the citizenship question does not touch on a resident’s legal status.
Apportionment would only be affected if large numbers of noncitizens refused to respond to the census, but actual evidence from prior censuses that included the question and American Community Surveys indicates this is not the case. Apportionment could also be affected if state and local governments decided to apportion their representatives based on the number of eligible voters — “one person, one vote,” as it should be — instead of the total number of residents.
Voter Dilution Is the Democrats’ Solution
Whatever follows from having the question on the census, leaving the question off of it presents a legitimate problem. As writer Ben Weingarten explains in The Federalist, and as the Commerce Department argued to the Supreme Court, apportionment based on gross population can unfairly strengthen certain voters and weaken others.
The votes of people from a sanctuary city are amplified by the presence of so many noncitizens, while the votes of people in a nonsanctuary city are relatively diluted by more eligible voters. Depending on the number of noncitizens in a given district, one vote has more say than another, and this kind of vote dilution violates the Voting Rights Act, which protects all voters from such discriminatory practices.
The purpose of adding the citizenship question was to provide a means of enforcing the Voting Rights Act. Otherwise, how will the federal government know if a district is experiencing vote dilution? As it stands, it is difficult to know accurately, and Democrats intend to keep it that way.
While it is clear how citizens are hurt by this, except Democrats, it is unclear how noncitizens benefit from this. They are mainly pawns with little say in how they are governed. Is it really xenophobic to leave them out of apportionment and encourage them to seek citizenship if they want to participate in American politics?
According to leftists, yes, it is. Based on their logic, there should be no real difference between a citizen, a legal resident, and an illegal resident, which is why many of them also support open borders. They all pay taxes in some form and live in the United States, so they should be entitled to the benefits of Americans, regardless of whether they jumped through the hoops of becoming an American citizen. After all, didn’t the American colonists fight over being taxed without representation?
Yes, but the American colonists were British subjects following British laws. They could make this claim; a person who is not American or breaks American law by entering the country illegally cannot claim taxation without representation. Their claim has no standing. The analogy doesn’t hold.
What does hold is that there is a key difference between an American citizen, a legal resident, and an illegal one. They may all have jobs, pay taxes, and live in the United States, but only one of them is actually American, and this fact comes with certain privileges and responsibilities. Rejecting the question as xenophobic is meant to deny this reality in the leftist hope that denying important differences or eliminating definitions will somehow make everyone more equal and united — the same can be seen in areas of race, sex, and sexual orientation.
Think in Terms of Legality, Not Sincerity
Progressive fantasies aside, most of them, along with a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, protest the question of citizenship as a power play by Republicans. Before rebutting this claim, it is notable that these critics immediately think of who profits instead of whether this question helps the integrity of the American political system. It is obvious that they think in terms of power; it is not so clear whether those who support the question think the same way.
Apparently, Chief Justice Roberts agreed with the reasoning of the Commerce Department needing data to enforce the Voting Rights Act but still judged against the Department of Commerce because evidence outside the case suggested the real reason behind the question was political. In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas rightly pointed out that Roberts was judging people’s intentions, not the actual case at hand: “For the first time ever, the court invalidates an agency action solely because it questions the sincerity of the agency’s otherwise adequate rationale.”
Therefore, if anyone is making a power grab, it is Roberts and the four liberal justices who framed the merits of the case on purely partisan terms (who gets what) instead of its legality (what is defensible under the law). Rather than keeping Americans in the dark about how much of their political power comes from non-Americans, Democrats could have followed the same rules as Republicans and accepted more transparency — no power plays, just an honest assessment of whom they represent. But because of the biased decision of these five, special people, Democrats will continue having an advantage.
No Citizenship, No United States
Beyond its effects on politics, the controversy behind the citizenship question shows a troubling skepticism about the idea of citizenship itself. This is not just a patriotic concern, but an existential one. Without United States citizens, there is no United States.
Citizenship is what turns a random collection of people in a nation into a community with shared rights, a shared history, shared duties, and a shared purpose. It is the very answer to the political power struggles that arise from rivaling factions with no common bond. It offers hope of reconciliation: Americans can come together as citizens and not continue fighting to the bitter end.
In showing their disdain for American citizenship, leftists evidently hope to keep fighting and keep the country divided. In response, conservatives need to fight back, if only to stop the fighting. They should understand by now that undertaking this fight for a unified purpose that is bigger than themselves is still one of the first responsibilities of citizenship today.