I hope Juan Williams, writing in the Washington Post today, is wrong to say that an alarming number of conservatives have become paranoid about the U.S. census. Census officials themselves, he says, have been so concerned about complaints from the Right that they’ve launched an unprecedented effort to reach the NASCAR crowd, football fans, and QVC shoppers. (I’m not sure why the latter two groups are necessarily dominated by conservatives, but that may be my ignorance.)
Michelle Malkin, Williams reports, is cautioning readers that the census is counting everyone, including those here illegally. Well, yes, the U.S. Constitution demands an enumeration of all free persons, excluding Indians “not taxed,” and with slaves counted as only three-fifths of a person.
So the question of whether illegals should be counted is a purely theoretical one, unless Malkin wishes to propose a constitutional amendment, but it is an interesting theoretical exercise. If noncitizens were taken out of the reapportionment equation, California, Ohio, and New York would lose a few seats, while Montana, Arizona, Texas, and Florida would gain some.
Democrats will probably gain if everyone is counted, Malkin correctly asserts, although their precise gain will depend on the demographic distribution of Hispanics within states. If the concern is party advantage, we should not forget that partisan gerrymandering can much more dramatically alter the composition of a congressional delegation than adding or subtracting illegals.
Sen. Judd Gregg was right to refuse the job of commerce secretary on the assumption that the White House (and Rahm Emanuel specifically) would wade into the roiling census waters. But the Supreme Court in 1999 ruled out statistical sampling for the reapportionment of House seats, taking that issue off the table. (We rely, however, on samples to provide much important information: the unemployment rate, levels of educational attainment, popular support for the president, and so forth.)
Moreover, the old census long form — which is now the American Community Survey — is administered to roughly 2 percent of the American population and reports much vital information, including citizenship status.
Fill out census forms! The Framers asked you to.
– Abigail Thernstrom is the author, most recently, of Voting Rights — and Wrongs: The Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections. She is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.