The Lead

Nevermind the election, what’s going on with the Census count?

By: - November 11, 2020 6:30 am

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The decennial U.S. Census count took a backseat to politics in the lead up to the Nov. 3 general election, but a U.S. Supreme Court case later this month will likely be decisive for the census count. 

On Nov. 30, the high court will hear arguments on whether President Donald Trump can exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census count for the purpose of congressional reapportionment.

The Trump administration sought to exclude undocumented immigrants in July, issuing a memorandum to the U.S. Department of Commerce not to include undocumented immigrants, citing the U.S. Constitution in its argument. 

“The Constitution does not specifically define which persons must be included in the apportionment base. Although the Constitution requires the ‘persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed,’ to be enumerated in the census, that requirement has never been understood to include in the apportionment base every individual physically present within a State’s boundaries at the time of the census,” the memo reads.” Instead, the term ‘persons in each State’ has been interpreted to mean that only the “inhabitants” of each State should be included. Determining which persons should be considered ‘inhabitants’ for the purpose of apportionment requires the exercise of judgment. For example, aliens who are only temporarily in the United States, such as for business or tourism, and certain foreign diplomatic personnel are ‘persons’ who have been excluded from the apportionment base in past censuses.”

Dan Bouk, a census historian at Data & Society Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies the social implications of data-centric technologies, said there are two issues to be decided by the Supreme Court case. 

“The Constitution through the Fourteenth Amendment declares that it’s the ‘whole number of persons’ that will be counted,” he said. “And so that’s the basis on which the Supreme Court will be deciding if it’s a constitutional claim. And the statutory claim is that the current apportionment statute also uses that same language.”

The high court’s decision could have ramifications in Pennsylvania, where the state is projected to lose another congressional seat, going from 18 representatives down to 17. 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.