How a Census citizenship question could reshape state-level politics | Wednesday Morning Coffee

July 10, 2019 7:06 am

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

President Donald Trump raised a few eyebrows last week when he acknowledged that a citizenship question on the 2020 Census was important for the decennial redrawing of congressional districts.

As you recall, this matters because it was an argument the White House had not previously raised during court fights.

But it confirmed the suspicions of opponents that the the White House was trying to use the once-a-decade count to advantage rural and more conservative areas, which tend to have fewer non-citizens.

And as our friends at recently reported, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest just how much a citizenship question could reshape the political playing field at the state level — in the fight over legislative districts.

The Pennsylvania House chamber. Image via Flickr Commons

From Stateline:

“Although the U.S. Constitution is clear that congressional seats must be apportioned to states by population, states have been free to make their own decisions on drawing legislative districts.

“As a result, conservatives repeatedly have floated the idea of drawing state legislative districts based on the number of voting-age citizens. The theory is that doing so would counteract the growing power of liberal cities that draw large number of immigrants, some living in the country illegally, in red states such as Texas and Florida.

” … Many conservative districts … would benefit from the change in drawing districts, according to a Stateline analysis of American Community Survey data. Of the 1,097 state senate districts nationwide that would benefit, 63 percent are in Republican hands.

“Of the 811 that would suffer, 55 percent are Democratic. (The analysis excludes Vermont and West Virginia, which do not have single-member districts for the state senate.)

“Drawing legislative districts based on adult citizens is an idea that has been broached in the predominantly red states of Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas.

“A 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling suggested it’s legal, given that Hawaii has long drawn districts according to registered voter numbers because of the confusion caused by temporary armed forces personnel who count as residents but vote in their home states.”

Key: Navy – D+1,000 or more, Blue – D+501 to D+1,000, Skyblue – D+1 to D+500. Light Salmon – R+1 to R+500, Red – R+501 to R+1,000, Maroon – R+1,000 or more. Map by Nick Field via Dave’s Redistricting.

More astute readers will recall that, in Pennsylvania, congressional districts are redrawn through an act of the Legislature, which then gets a gubernatorial signature. Legislative districts are redrawn by a special commission made up of floor leaders in the House and Senate, and a fifth, nonpartisan member appointed by the state Supreme Court.

Lawmakers have spent the last two years trying to reform the process – without much success — arguing that the current system is too partisan and leads to unfair gerrymandering.

More from Stateline:

“The unanimous decision in the 2016 Evenwel v. Abbott case, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, noted that many states already exclude from redistricting counts some people who don’t vote, like prisoners or armed service personnel in temporary quarters, and that the court has traditionally “left the drawing of states’ political boundaries to the states.”  

“But the Stateline analysis shows that the idea, if implemented nationwide, also would help many affluent liberal areas across the country and hurt some rural and suburban Republican areas with immigrant workforces.

“The political benefits to more rural, conservative areas with older populations like The Villages, a 55-and-over community with the largest citizen voting-age population of any Senate district in Florida, are obvious. The 12th Senate District, which includes The Villages, has few new immigrants or children.”Nationally, the legislative districts that would suffer most in terms of lost representation are diverse Democratic districts.”

But, “regardless of the partisan outcomes, using citizenship instead of total population in redistricting will further the goal of electoral equality.” Edward Blum, director of the conservative Project on Fair Representation, told Stateline.

(Dsw4/WikiMedia Commons)

A final thought from Stateline:

“Overall, Democrats hold the state senate districts most likely to lose power in 36 states. But Democrats also hold the districts most likely to benefit in 35 states — mostly because those are liberal but expensive areas with relatively small populations of new immigrants and families, such as midtown Manhattan, New York; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco.

States would be hard-pressed to make the change without the results from the census citizenship question, which would provide a detailed count of voting-age citizens to draw new state legislative districts in 2022.”

WikiMedia Commons

Our Stuff.
Gov. Tom Wolf
 will borrow $90 million against economic development funds to help counties pay for new voting machines. Republicans are incandescent over the executive end-around. Stephen Caruso has the story.

The Wolf administration made a $317 million deposit into the state’s Rainy Day FundElizabeth Hardison breaks down why that matters.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act Tuesday. Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians, many of them children, stand to lose coverage if the law falls, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has warned.

And the Pa. Supreme Court says it will investigate ‘systemic failures’ in Philly’s cash bail system and maybe come up with ways to fix it.

On our Commentary Page, regular contributors Mark O’Keefe and Fletcher McClellan do their thing. O’Keefe has a bone to pick with our very part-timeand very expensive Legislature bugging out for the summer. McClellan has his take on the Harris-Biden busing controversy.

Photo by

Philly residents don’t want to drink the city’s water. The Inquirer explains what officials are doing to fix its image problem.
Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities could have a tuition freeze for the first time in two decadesPennLive reports.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner has a trial date on assault charges in Detroit – one week after this November’s general election, the Post-Gazette reports.
A former Holiday Inn in Allentown will be turned into ‘financially attainable’ apartments, the Morning Call reports.
The Tribune-Review looks at the late Ross Perot’s ties to western Pa. — including his marriage to a Greensburg, Pa., native.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

Some Pa. school superintendents have been packing heat — and parents are unlikely aware of it, WHYY-FM reports.
Pittsburgh has added ‘more inclusive language’ to its anti-discrimination ordinance, WESA-FM reports.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro is trying to put some daylight between himself and a bill giving his office the right to preempt Philly DA Larry Krasner on gun crimes, WHYY-FM also reports.
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, is getting a primary from his rightPoliticsPA reports.
Now that he’s in the race, Tom Steyer has unleashed a TV ad blitz, Politico reports.
North Carolina voters are probably going to send a white male Republican to Congress, Roll Call reports.

They Also Served:
Former Pennsylvania State Education Association President Dolores McCracken, who died last November while still in office, has picked up a posthumous honor from the National Education Association.
On July 5, the NEA bestowed its Friend of Education Award on McCracken, a former educator in the Council Rock District in Bucks County, PSEA officials said in a statement to the Capital-Star.

Deck-Chair Rearranging Dept.
Our best to Joe Grace, press secretary for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who’s headed off to become chief spokesman to Philly City Council Prez Darrell Clarke.
In an email, Grace told us he’s “valued every single moment doing communications” for Shapiro, which means he’s eternally skilled at spin.
In his new job, Grace takes up the baton left behind by Jane Roh, now spox for Philly DA Larry Krasner — who, come to think of it, probably isn’t real psyched about the budget season power grab that benefited Shapiro.
It’s the Circle of Life, folks.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Pennsylvania, the political wing of the women’s health organization, has a new executive director. Ashley Lenker White, most recently of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, takes over today.  She succeeds ex-Executive Director Sari Stevens, who left earlier this year.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old favorite from Squeeze to get you through the morning. From 1989’s criminally underappreciated ‘Frank‘ LP, it’s ‘Love Circles.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
The American League beat the National League 4-3 to take its 7th MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.