Learning With: ‘How the Supreme Court’s Decision on the Census Could Alter American Politics’

Learning With: ‘How the Supreme Court’s Decision on the Census Could Alter American Politics’

Before reading the article:

The United States census, taken every 10 years, is essentially a head count of all the people living in the United States. Its data informs many state and federal decisions, but one of its most important roles is determining how seats in Congress will be apportioned among the states, and thus in the Electoral College.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the next census in 2020 should ask respondents if they are American citizens, a question that has never been asked of all the nation’s residents in the census’ 230-year history.

If noncitizens weren’t counted in the census, how might American politics be affected?

Take a look at the two maps above as an example of the effect this question could have. As you compare them, respond to the following questions:

• What do you notice?

• What do you wonder?

• Taken together, what story are these maps telling about the citizenship question?

• What implications might a question about citizenship have in the 2020 election and beyond?

Now, read the article, “How the Supreme Court’s Decision on the Census Could Alter American Politics,” and answer the following questions:

1. Why did the reporter, Michael Wines, use the 29th Congressional District of Texas in Houston to illustrate the battle that is brewing over the way the nation tallies its population?

2. What are the main arguments in support of and against a citizenship question on the census?

3. Census data is used to redraw political maps each time it is given. How might knowing the number and location of noncitizens shape those maps? Which party would benefit more from these maps and why?

4. How many noncitizens are estimated to be living in the United States? What is known about these residents?

5. How do Democrats generally feel about adding a question about citizenship to the census? How do Republicans generally feel about it? Why?

6. Margo J. Anderson, a historian and expert on the census at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says the debate about whether to count noncitizens in the census is “uncharted territory.” Why is that?

7. How would redrawing maps without noncitizens alter politics in immigrant-rich places, like Houston?

8. In what ways do noncitizens rely on elected officials and government services? How might daily life for these residents be affected if they were not counted in the census?

Finally, tell us more about what you think:

As noted above, census data is used to influence more than just politics. How else might an undercount of the population affect the nation?

Take a look at this list of other commercial, political and research efforts that depend on accurate census data. Choose one of these areas and explain how it might be affected if noncitizens were not counted in the 2020 census.

Then, tell us what you think: Should there be a question asking about citizenship status in the next census? Why or why not?