Under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s Justice Department has repeatedly turned its back on our Constitution’s promise of an inclusive democracy, seeking to make it harder for citizens to exercise their right to vote. Now, the department has another trick up its sleeve. If successful, its ploy would undermine the fabric of our representative democracy for the next 10 years, and possibly beyond. The Justice Department has requested that a mandatory citizenship question be added to the 2020 census. This would chill participation by immigrants across the country and result in bad data, biasing congressional apportionment, redistricting and funding decisions for an entire decade. The Constitution imposes a clear duty on the Census Bureau: It requires a count of all people living in the United States, whether they are citizens or noncitizens, whether they were born in the United States or in a distant part of the world.
More than two centuries ago, our founders established a democracy premised on the idea that all people — no matter where they are from — deserve equal representation. To ensure a proper count of the nation’s population, the Constitution explicitly requires an “actual Enumeration” of the people. The census was the framers’ insurance policy against partisan efforts to manipulate the ground rules of our representative democracy.
Over the course of our nation’s history, the American people have made our Constitution’s representative democracy more inclusive. The original Constitution’s promise of equal representation for all persons was undermined by the Three-Fifths Clause, which provided that for the purpose of determining representation in Congress, someone who was enslaved would be counted as three-fifths of a person.
During the debates over the 14th Amendment, which ensured equal protection under the law, many in Congress sought a drastic change in our constitutional principles of equal representation, arguing that only citizens or voters should be counted in determining representation.