Supporters of the Census Citizenship Question Expose the Administration's Dishonest Justifications

A higher non-response rate among illegal immigrants is a goal to be celebrated, not some minor potential side effect to be lamented, Kris Kobach, David Vitter, and other would-be gerrymanderers stress.


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When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced Monday night that the decennial Census in 2020 would for the first time in 70 years ask all respondents about their citizenship status, he did so in the name of promoting a "more effective enforcement" of the Voting Rights Act, an objective he deemed "of greater importance than any adverse effect that may result from people violating their legal duty to respond." (Ross also repeatedly stressed that there is "limited empirical evidence exists about whether adding a citizenship question would decrease response rates materially.")

Yet the people responding enthusiastically to the decision have not been what you would describe as Voting Rights Act enforcement enthusiasts; quite the opposite. And many, contra Ross's protestations, see the prospect of an illegal-immigrant undercount as a goal to be achieved, not a side effect to be avoided.

One person already taking partial credit for the move is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the country's most notorious hunter for ever-elusive illegal-immigrant voter fraud, and until its January dissolution the key man behind Donald Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Kobach, the architect behind Mitt Romney's 2012 policy of "self-deportation" before advising the Trump campaign on same, bragged to The Kansas City Star Tuesday that "I raised the [Census] issue with the president shortly after he was inaugurated," and that "he was absolutely interested in this." The wording change could directly impact the redrawing of the House map, Kobach said, particularly in states like California that have "congressional seats inflated by counting illegal aliens."

According to both the Constitution and all active Supreme Court precedent on the issue, House reapportionment is based on the number of residents, not number of legal residents or eligible voters. So the only way to act upon the viscerally objectionable Census/illegals/reapportionment formula is to consciously depress the inputs. Wilbur Ross and the Justice Department (which requested the change to begin with) are not open about this aim, but Kobach and other supporters are.

Take former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). In 2009, Vitter introduced an amendment that would mandate that the Census ask about citizenship. His rationale? "States that have large populations of illegals [are] rewarded for that. Other states, including my home state of Louisiana, [are] penalized." Hard to be clearer than that. Oh, and you'll never guess from which Senate office President Trump plucked his first political appointee to the Census Bureau….

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Chris Kleponis/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

Sales pitch to the contrary, the architects of the citizenship wording-change are not big defenders of the Voting Rights Act. John Gore, who ProPublica reports drafted the original DOJ request, "came to the Trump administration from the law firm Jones Day, where he was an appellate specialist best known for defending a range of Republican state redistricting plans that were attacked as racial gerrymandering by opponents." (Recall that Trump's first choice to head up the Census, since withdrawn, also came from the world of GOP redistricting.) Gore is now acting chief of the Justice Dept.'s Civil Rights Division.

The Census Bureau's mission creep over the years has been godawful, as a scanning of the hot-off-the-presses proposed 2020 questionnaire will reveal. As government has grown larger, so has its appetite for minute demographic data extracted from its subjects upon threat of punishment. If you think the Census hasn't been politicized before, you haven't been paying attention.

The sole purpose of the exercise, in the beginning anyway, was to determine the most accurate possible head count, so that the House of Representatives could be re-jiggered every 10 years. With all the layers and add-ons and social engineering since then, it perhaps should come as no surprise that we have arrived at an opposite destination.