The Corner

Census: Dems Blocking Citizenship Question

The Washington Examiner reports that Democrats are blocking a proposal by House Senate Republicans David Vitter and Bob Bennett to require that the census inquire into a person’s citizenship. The objections are frivolous. 

What’s described as a “coalition of black, Latino and Asian” Democrats complain that “every census since 1790 has included citizens and non-citizens.” But the Vitter/Bennett proposal is not suggesting that aliens (including illegal aliens) not be counted. The Republicans want them counted but identified as non-citizens. We inquire into people’s citizenship status for all kinds of reasons, including eligibility for jury-service and voting. The idea is not to refuse to acknowledge the existence of non-Americans in our country — indeed, we want to know about their existence. The purpose is to deny them participation in matters of state that are reserved for members of our body-politic. That is a fundamental aspect of sovereignty.

Which leads to the Democrats’ second objection: that it’s too late to change the census form at this point — if a new question were added, the lawmakers say, the reapportionment counts will not be completed as required by law in 2010. That claim is specious. The Constitution requires the census to be “made . . . within” a decade — it doesn’t specify when within that decade the count has to be completed and certified. The latter is a matter of statute. That’s significant because, while statutory rights are no doubt important, they are trumped by constitutional rights. The right of U.S. citizens to representation in Congress is constitutional in nature. Conducting a flawed census that inflates the representation of some districts because non-Americans are counted would unconstitutionally dilute the representation of other citizens. 

Consequently, if it is not possible to both get it done right and get it done on time, getting it done right takes precedence.