As the Trump administration scrambles to try to get a citizenship question re-added to the census, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) unveiled a bill Wednesday that would block a key endgame on Republicans’ effort to include the question on the 2020 survey.
Booker’s bill would prohibit the Census Bureau from giving citizenship data for legislative map-drawers to use in redistricting. The issue is a wonky one but gets at the heart of one of the major reasons that the Trump administration is fighting tooth and nail to overcome a Supreme Court ruling last month blocking its initial move to add the citizenship question.
President Trump himself told reporters last week the citizenship question was needed for “districting.” He’s likely referring to the push to exclude non-citizens from legislative redistricting, which would be a boon for Republicans because it would reduce the number of legislative seats for Democratic-leaning immigrant-rich communities.
Democrats and civil rights advocates have been ringing the alarm about the undercount effect of the question. By discouraging immigrant households from participating on the census the question would skew political representation as well as federal resources away from them. Until recently, the use of citizenship data to exclude non-citizens from the redistricting count outright was receiving less attention in the backlash to the administration’s move to ask census-takers their citizenship status.
That began to change in May when the question’s legal challengers obtained bombshell documents relevant to the case. The documents revealed that a key player in the administration’s push to add the citizenship question studied this redistricting dynamic and how it would boost “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”
Booker’s bill has little-to-no chance of being brought up in a GOP Senate. However, its introduction signals Democrats are starting to grapple with this aspect of Trump’s push to add the citizenship question.
And unlike blocking the citizenship question on the census, it’s a move that is feasible for Democrats to do next year — perhaps via must-pass legislation — or even in early 2021 if Democrats take control of the White House.
Booker’s presidential campaign did not tell TPM by the time of this story’s publishing whether he would seek to block the Census Bureau from offering the data if elected President.
An effort to block citizenship data from being used in redistricting was absent from the Census Bureau funding legislation passed by House Democrats last month. The bill did block the funding for the Census Bureau to include a citizenship question on the census, though it is unclear how such a provision would survive a GOP Senate or President Trump’s signature.
Democratic lawmakers told TPM, as they were considering the spending legislation, that they thought it was premature to go after the data’s use in the redistricting file and that they were hopeful the question would be blocked from the 2020 census anyway.
While their optimism for a Supreme Court intervention in this instance was well-placed, it is still possible that the question could be re-added to the 2020 census — an outcome the Trump administration is now desperately trying to achieve.
Furthermore, even if Trump’s Justice Department is unsuccessful in getting the question re-added to the census, the administration appears to have set the stage for another set of citizenship data to still be supplied to state map-drawers instead. That is because Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — when he okayed the citizenship question last year — also took the Census Bureau up on its offer to collect citizenship data from existing records held by agencies across the government. (The Census Bureau had proposed the idea in lieu of including the question rather than in addition to it.)
Census Bureau officials have said that they’re still collecting the citizenship data from the existing records even if the citizenship question is blocked from the 2020 census. And they’ve signaled that the records data could still be supplied on the redistricting file sent to states; the administration is expected to formally announce this month whether it’s including citizenship data on the redistricting file.
Booker’s bill would block that kind of citizenship data from being included in the redistricting file as well.