In an unsurprising move, the Trump-made Supreme Court majority appears to be united behind his plan to ask whether or not a resident is a U.S. citizen on the 2020 Census.
The Court is expected to issue its ruling in Department of Commerce v. New York this summer, in time for the Census to proceed according to schedule. Even so, oral arguments Tuesday not only previewed the likely 5-4 ruling, but who is likely to drive the decision.
Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch was particularly notable in his apparent support of the citizenship question, particularly at the chance to exclude resident aliens from redistricting following the Census.
Though his arguments didn’t seem to catch fire with other justices, Gorsuch drew from arguments in a past case, Evenwell v. Abbott, about the Census’ potential role in determining the number of citizens over another metric, the American Community Survey.
However useful Justice Gorsuch might find the data, research by the U.S. Census Bureau cautioned that the accuracy of the count will be impacted by the court’s likely decision to include the question. An estimated 6.5 million won’t respond due to the question.
And that has far-reaching consequences.
Census data’s most direct impact is on reapportionment — the process of balancing how many Congressional representatives each state has, and of redrawing Congressional districts. Basically, it’s the process that determines how much an individual state has power in the House of Representatives, and of how much power an individual voters has contrasted to voters of other states. But that isn’t the only use of Census data.
Census data informs almost every policy decision America makes, from what bridges are in most need of repair to allocations for healthcare and education to how much aid is needed in the wake of a natural disaster. The latter is especially important given which states will be most hampered by the citizenship question.
Data suggests that the state with the highest noncitizen population by percent is California, which has been wracked by wildfires in recent years. Texas and Florida, the second and sixth highest noncitizen populations, have faced devastating hurricanes in recent memory as well.
Put simply, pressing for the citizenship question as the Supreme Court is poised to do will lead to states not having the resources they need when the next Camp Fire or Hurricane Irma come to call. And these states already face the loss of aid at presidential whims.
And the damage to the prestige of the Census as a nonpartisan scientific measure of the American public may be already done, and potentially irreparable.
We can expect to see the extent institutional tarnish on the Census this summer, when the Supreme Court formally issues its decision.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.