Rights and Wrongs of the Trump Administration's Revised Citizenship Test

Some of the changes are reasonable. But many of the new questions are badly designed and incorporate serious errors. Moreover, such tests raise the deeper issue of why immigrants are required to pass a test to get the right to vote, but natives are not.


The Trump administration recently introduced a new and somewhat more difficult citizenship test for immigrants. The 128 questions that can be used on the new test are listed here.

Some of the changes are reasonable, and arguably improvements over the old version. On the other hand, many of the new questions are badly drafted, incorporating various serious errors. Moreover, the very existence of this test (both the new and old versions) raises the question of why immigrants should be required to pass a test to get voting rights, but not natives.

The changes to the immigration test are far less objectionable than most of the Trump administration's other changes to immigration policy, most of which are calculated to keep immigrants out of the United States altogether, and have collectively made the US more closed to migration than ever before. By contrast, making the citizenship test harder doesn't deny people the right to live and work in the US, because all or nearly all of those eligible to take it in the first place already have the right to live and work in the US as permanent residents, and will not be deported if they fail the test. Indeed, they can even take the test again the next time it is administered. The main rights that turn on passing the test are the right to vote, and the right to certain types of welfare benefits.

Unlike the right to live and work in a given location, the right to vote is not just a personal liberty, but also, as John Stuart Mill put it, the right to exercise "power over others." Thus, there is some potential justification for restricting the franchise to those with at least a minimal level of political knowledge. That is, at least in theory, what the citizenship test is supposed to do. And it is also the reason why we deny the suffrage to children, among others.

Some of the changes from the old test to the new one are reasonable. For example, it makes sense to get rid of questions about geography, while adding more questions about history, law, and political institutions. The latter types of knowledge are far more likely to be useful for voting purposes.

It also makes sense to expand the number of questions on the test from ten to twenty. More questions make it less likely that someone will fail or pass simply because of a fluke related to the questions that just happen to be chosen for that administration of the test. The lower the number of questions, the more likely it is that a knowledgeable applicant will fail because she was unlucky, in that the questions selected for that particular administration just happened to be chosen from among the small number she didn't know the answer to. Conversely, a badly prepared applicant might get "lucky" if the ten questions chosen just happened to be among the few she is familiar with.

It is also worth noting that, while the new test is more difficult than the old, it still isn't that hard. The vast majority of the questions are fairly basic in nature, and applicants need only get 12 of 20 right (60%) in order to pass. That is the same percentage as on the old test (6 of 10). Thus, I'm skeptical of predictions by some immigrant rights advocates that the new test will lead to a great increase in the failure rate, though they may well be right to suspect that this is what the Trump administration is hoping for.

While some of the changes made on the new test are defensible, many of the questions are badly designed or based on factual errors. It is particularly  ironic that a test designed to weed out bad potential voters includes some egregious errors about the history of voting rights. Two of the questions ask "When did all men get the right to vote?" and "When did all women get the right to vote?" In reality it is simply not true that either"all men" or "all women" have the right to vote—even to this day.

Even if the relevant men and women are only adult citizens, current law continues to deny the franchise to large numbers of both men and women. Most states deny it to substantial categories of mentally ill people, and to many convicted felons. These are not marginal exceptions. They affect millions of people. And, of course, the franchise is also denied to millions of non-citizen residents of the US. That's why the citizenship test exists in the first place!

Another question asks respondents to name a power that is "only for the states." Among the possible correct answers are "Provide schooling and education," "Provide protection (police)," and "Approve zoning and land use." In reality, the federal government has a major role in each of these policy areas. The federal Department of Education funds and controls a wide range of education programs, there are numerous federal law enforcement agencies, and the federal government imposes a variety of restrictions on land use—especially in the many places where it actually owns large amounts of land!

I am sympathetic to the argument that the federal government has intruded into these areas far more than the original meaning of the Constitution allows. But the citizenship test should not conflate the normative debate over this issue with a factual question about the current distribution of power. And even under relatively narrow interpretations of federal power under the Constitution, the federal government would still have a role in each of these areas when it comes to military education, the federal territories, the District of Columbia and federally owned land.

A number of questions on the test dress up normative preferences as factual issues. For example, one question asks who members of the House of Representatives represent, and there is a similar question about who senators represent. The "correct" answers are "citizens" in their respective states (for senators) or districts (for members of the House). Whether members of Congress are supposed to represent all residents of their constituency or only those who are citizens is a actually a contested normative issue. As a practical matter, members who represent areas with large immigrant populations often do take non-citizen interests into account in various ways. Presenting this as a factual question with an obvious right answer is wrong.

The same can be said of the question which asks why "[i]t is important for all men age 18 through 25 to register for the Selective Service." Among the "correct" answers are that it is a "[c]ivic duty," and that  it "[m]akes the draft fair, if needed." The framing of both the question and the list of correct answers overlooks the long history of opposition to the draft, which dates all the way back to the 19th century. There have long been those who oppose it on the grounds that the draft is a form of unjust forced labor, that it is unconstitutional, that many of the wars fought by draftees are immoral and unjust, or some combination of all three reasons. Opposition to the draft (and draft registration) is as much an American tradition as support for it—perhaps even more. The answer that "it makes the draft fair, if needed" overlooks the longstanding argument that the male-only draft is unjust sex discrimination. A recent court decision has even ruled that it is unconstitutional for that very reason, though the ruling was later reversed on appeal.

These are far from the only questions on the test that are either based on factual errors, smuggle in contestable normative preferences, or some combination of both. If the federal government is going to continue to have a civics test for new citizens, they should hire some people to draft it who actually know what they are doing—at least enough to avoid very basic errors.

Some of these flawed questions are carried over from the old test (though not the one about representation). But it is still a mistake to include them in the new one.

Despite the flaws in the current citizenship test, I am not on principle opposed to requiring would-be voters to pass a test of basic political knowledge. Voter ignorance is a serious problem, and such a requirement might potentially curtail it, at least at the margin. Even the current flawed test might still be better (or less bad) than no test at all.

But that, in turn raises the question of why it should be imposed on immigrants, but not native-born citizens. One possible answer is that we can reasonably assume that natives already know these things. But, sadly, that isn't true. Studies show that almost two-thirds of current American citizens would fail even the old citizenship test if they had to take it without studying. The percentage who would fail the new one may well be even higher.

Perhaps the answer is that voting is an inherent right of citizenship, so all citizens should be given the franchise, regardless of how ignorant they might be about politics and government. But this runs into the fact that we already deny the franchise to large numbers of citizens based on their real or imagined lack of competence to be good voters: children, many of the mentally ill, and numerous convicted felons. In combination, these groups add up to a third or more of the population. If it is morally permissible to deny the franchise to incompetent (or supposedly incompetent) children, mentally ill people, immigrants, and felons, why not to ignorant native-born adults? Indeed, some of these groups (most notably children) are denied the franchise based on crude generalizations about their competence that don't actually apply to many of them.

Discrimination between politically ignorant immigrants and similarly ignorant natives is another example of morally arbitrary discrimination based on parentage and place of birth, on which most immigration restrictions are based. Why not just impose a knowledge test that applies to all would-be voters regardless of whether they are immigrants or natives, children or adults, mentally ill or not? Any who pass are entitled to vote, and those who fail can try again later.

One possible answer to this question is that we cannot trust the government to come up with an objective test, as opposed to one calculated to weed out opponents of the party in power. This problem is already evident in some of the Trump administration test questions discussed above, which seem designed to privilege more conservative answers to questions (such as the one about who members of Congress represent). The incentive for the government to "rig" the test would be even greater if it applied to all potential voters, not just immigrants.  The history of voting tests is not a happy one; it includes, for example, "literacy tests" used to weed out black voters in the Jim Crow-era South. This is the main reason why I am skeptical of adopting knowledge tests as a general solution to the problem of political ignorance. The idea is likely to be  pernicious in practice, even if defensible in theory.

But even if they cannot be easily changed, we should at least acknowledge the morally questionable aspects of the citizenship test for immigrants. And if we are going to continue to have one, it should be more competently designed. Perhaps the people hired to design the citizenship test should be required to meet certain standards of civic knowledge themselves! To the classic problem of "who guards the guardians," we might add the issue of "who tests the testers."







NEXT: "I Take the Twenty-First"

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  1. >Why not just impose a knowledge test that applies to all would-be >voters regardless of whether they are immigrants or natives, >children or adults, mentally ill or not? Any who pass are entitled to >vote, and those who fail can try again later.

    Will you still support that if the results show disparate impact on protected minorities? Or maybe if withholding the right to vote destroys one-man-one-vote?

    1. The simple answer is that the constitution says people born here can vote after they turn 18. And that Congress can set the conditions of naturalization on immigrants, including requiring a test.

      Maybe that should be on the test.

      1. It does nothing of the sort. It says that neither the federal nor the state governments may deny or abridge the right of anyone over the age of 18 to vote on account of age (or race, sex, color, or previous condition of servitude). It says nothing about denying people the vote on account of illiteracy, or conviction of felony, or mental incompetence.

        1. Section 2 of the 14th Amendment does allow disenfranchisement following a criminal conviction.

          1. Section 2 of the 14th Amendment doesn’t actually confer voting rights on anybody (and because it is there, Section 1 is not read as doing so either; otherwise the 15th would have been unnecessary).

            What section 2 does is: (1) spell out who gets counted in the census (no more 3/5 rule), and (2) impose a penalty so that states which don’t let all their male citizens over 21 vote, with an exception for felony convicts, shall have their representation in the House reduced in proportion.

            Even today it would be legal for a state to go back to limiting the vote to property owners, for example, and this would include elections for federal offices. But the penalty would apply.

            1. Right. It was done this way because they didn’t think that, even with a constitutional amendment, they could actually tell states who they had to let vote. At most they could punish them for making the wrong choice.

              I don’t think people discussing the meaning of these amendments really grasp how seriously federalism was taken at the time. Even when they were willing to station soldiers in legislative chambers to get something like the 13th amendment ratified, there were lines they thought they didn’t dare cross, because they’d lose the northern states, too.

              Modern politicians don’t even see those lines, having long since trampled them into the dust.

              1. Your layman’s internationalist argument, even if it holds water (and that’s unclear, given what the Civil War just said about federalism) that does not trump the text.

              2. Federalism, as the framers understood the term, is dead and buried. So are the divine right of kings, the concept that free speech means nothing more than that there can’t be prior restraint, and the idea that the right to counsel means nothing more than that the state can’t prevent you from hiring an attorney if you can afford one. I shall try to control my grief.

                1. Oh is federalism really buried?
                  Pretty hard to make that case when you have 50 states with 50 governors zealously implementing their covid policies, with quite a few governors telling the administration to pound sand when they criticize them.

                  You have California with its own emmisions policies, New York bans Fracking, Pennsylvania embraces it. Every state has its own gun laws. Every state has its own unique tax policies.

                  You may wish federalism is dead, but that just isn’t the reality.

                  1. I said “federalism as the famers understood it.” And it is.

                    You’re right that the states still set a lot of their own policy. However, if Congress decided to preempt the states and set national policy on covid, emissions policies, fracking, or gun laws, is there any real question in your mind that Congress could do so?

                    1. Absolutely.

                      There are no lost causes, and no won causes. There are just causes that have suffered severe setbacks, and causes that have made major advances. But none of these defeats or victories are absolutely set in stone.

                      You say, “Federalism is dead!” and we hear, “Don’t you dare try to revive federalism!”

                    2. Even Biden’s advisors have told him he likely doesn’t have authority for a national mask mandate.

                      He probably does have the power to have OSHA draft workplace regulations to require masks, but that would require notice and comment under the APA. I don’t think anyone would claim he could order a nationwide curfew. Or close churches, schools, parks, etc.

                    3. And definitely not gun laws. There are already circuit splits on magazine limits (3rd, 9th) where they have been struck down and upheld. Illinois was forced to craft a “shall issue” law under supervision of the 7th circuit.

                      So while you may be technically right that Congress could craft nationwide gun laws, it likely would only be for uniform liberalization, national CCW, ban on magazine limits, just as they all ready passed a national peaceable journey law, and gun manufacturer liability restrictions.

                    4. A national gun policy might or might not survive a Second Amendment challenge depending on what it said. But we’re talking specifically about federalism. Assuming no Second Amendment problem, I don’t see a federalism problem with nationalizing gun laws.

                      Ditto a mask mandate. You are probably correct that the executive cannot unilaterally impose a mask mandate, but Congress sure could. If Covid isn’t impacting interstate commerce I don’t know what is.

                    5. The national speed limit was accomplished by bribery. Do you think that, today, they’d just impose it, and the courts would roll over?

                      I suppose if Garland had replaced Scalia, and Biden had been gifted with the opportunity to replace RBG, they might have. But barring Court packing, I think the Supreme court is not ready to bury what remains of federalism quite yet. Even if they’re not quite ready either to apply the paddles and try to shock it back into life.

                      The next decade will probably decide whether we return to being a federation, or finish the unconstitutional transition into a simple nation-state. But that fight is not yet decided.

                2. Federalism, as the framers understood the term, is dead and buried.

                  Federalism is an implied part of the Constitution just as it was when the Federalist Papers spelled that out. New Dealers proclaim that it’s dead and buried because they undertook to change the Constitution illegitimately, not by using the proper amendment process but by appointing Supreme Court members who lie about what it means (whom I call “Injustices”). Of course, the old interpretations are only “dead and buried” if we assume that Injustices will always control the Court, so that the wrong precedents they’ve set are never undone the same way they were done. We Trump supporters intend to make that happen.

    2. Voting Rights Act would have to be repealed.

      1. It should be repealed, along with the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the 14th Amendment. Then we could have “reasonable” and “common sense” restrictions on race again.

        1. Well, I think some of those statutes went too far, in that the 14th amendment never authorized imposing non-discrimination on private citizens.

          But I’d keep the 14th amendment around, I think I’d just reratify it to legitimize it, given the dodgy (to say the least!) way it was originally ratified.

          1. I see no need to reratify it, or the 13th and 15th, to satisfy a few embittered neo-Confederates.

            Besides, be careful. If that happened, you’d lose all your “The drafters never intended,” and “It didn’t mean that at the time” arguments.

            1. I’m not particularly embittered, and certainly not a “neo-Confederate”. I just don’t think ratifying amendments at gun point is a good precedent.

              The way the reconstruction amendments were ratified looks to me like a kind of unexploded bomb, in constitutional terms. The amendments themselves are too important to say they’re not valid, but the way they were ratified is too outrageous to generalize, and the inability to declare them invalid, runs the risk of legitimizing coerced ratification.

          2. I don’t think it’s enough, and certainly not with “disparate impact.”

  2. That’s a lot of talk about not solving any problem or accomplishing any goal.

    I think the implied goal of the discussion is for some very specific subset of people to feel better. Why them versus someone else? Why are their feelings the responsibility of others? As always, these questions are never answered. We’re just supposed to know that these people deserve some special care that others don’t deserve.

    The reason to have a test is to make the result of the test meaningful to the people involved. So it’s not undertaken too lightly or forgotten too readily. It’s not really to impart any specific knowledge. It’s a rite of passage, not a certification exam.

    1. The general function of tests is not to impart knowledge, but to measure / judge knowledge previously imparted.

      1. They go together. Tests make you care about the knowledge enough to actually learn and sometimes remember it. The knowledge without the measurement is much more easily forgotten.

        The citizenship test is more about creating a small challenge for people so it isn’t just more meaningless paperwork. It’s supposed to mean something.

  3. But that, in turn raises the question of why it should be imposed on immigrants, but not native-born citizens.

    Uh….how about it would be significantly more expensive and difficult to test everybody in the nation and the fact that you would be suddenly be creating hundreds of millions of stateless people kicking out native borns who failed the test which I’m sure would go over well with the Ilya somins of the world and causing huge unprecedented disruptions?

    C’mon really? Is this really your best argument? Sounds more like petulant whining

    1. AA,
      I think the argument was: If you can’t pass the test, then you can’t vote. Not: “If you can’t pass the test, you now-citizens will then lose your USA citizenship…at least, until you can pass the test.”

      I think there are legit criticisms of the OP’s suggestion. But “This will result in tens of millions of stateless people here in America.” is not one of them.

    2. Amos — native born Americans have attended 13 years of K-12 schooling and — in theory — have been taught this stuff. Immigrants haven’t been…

      1. Yes. This is so obvious that Somin should have known better than to “raise the question”. But that is pretty much the basis for most of his posts: “just asking” questions with obvious answers that he doesn’t get.

        1. Exactly. He has it backwards.

          The article’s argument for a “voter proficiency test” hinges on the idea that being able to vote is the only significant difference between being a citizen and a green card holder.

          That isnt true. Green cards are revocable, you don’t have a US Passport, you can’t run for office (mostly), your foreign-born children don’t have the easy path to citizenship, some federal jobs are closed to you, a number of benefits do not accrue.

          The test isn’t to be able to vote, it is to become a citizen, one of the benefits of which is the right to vote.

          The whole thing is garbage. And written like some third-rate clickbait article in a Facebook advertisement.

  4. Under principles of American government:

    12. What is the economic system of the United States?*

    Free market economy

    With regard to historical happenstance, correct for now. As a principle of American government? Those answers are wrong. American has never had any state economic system. It has always been up to the people themselves how the economy is to be managed. They have always been free to choose without limit.

    The question would apparently penalize a correct answer. It is apparently there for right-wing indoctrination purposes.

    The Biden administration should review the entire test, and take political bias out of it.

    1. Free to choose means free markets. Free to choose doesn’t mean free for you to decide the details of the lives of your serfs or slaves or subjects (or however people like imagine to condescend to others around you).

      1. No, Ben. I doubt you even believe that, at least as a matter of history. You might believe it as an ideal unmoored from anything in the Constitution—just some free-floating 20th-century-style ultra-individualist libertarianism.

        Did it ever occur to you that libertarians’ rationalistic, experience-free political theorizing is nearly the same method favored by Soviet communists? It is. Start with axioms, proceed to reasoning, deduce facts. All theory, no experience. If evidence shows up which embarrasses the axioms, the evidence can’t be right. It’s bullet-proof.

        That pile of theory isn’t in the Constitution. The founders weren’t libertarians. The only way you could believe it as history is if you knew nothing of the Articles of Confederation, ignored Madison’s notes on the Federal Convention, never read the Constitution, had not seen the Declaration of Independence, were unfamiliar with Federalist 10, and had no notion what the founders thought about popular sovereignty. Maybe that’s you. Nothing you write here suggests otherwise.

        Which could be okay, by the way. You are entitled to your politics. Just stop supposing libertarian theory has something to do with this nation’s past. It doesn’t. And don’t put it on some citizenship test while attempting to imply it’s part of the American system in the same way the Constitution is. It isn’t.

        1. You should try thinking without labels and pointless allusions to history. Your whole comment could be summed up as no.

          You didn’t mention free markets or how people in a society might somehow be free when they have to get permission for every economic transaction. Just four paragraphs of history blather and categories of people and politics you feel bad about.

        2. If you think the founders believed in lots of government planning and bureaucracy and all kinds of prohibitions and rules for the way everyone transacts commerce and travels, then why didn’t they set those structures up? Why didn’t they enact all those rules?

          Which founding document describes the regulation you like so much? Which founding document talks about your heavy-handed micromanagement approach? Which one has authorized experts deciding day-to-day life choices for the masses?

          None of them do.

          1. If you think the founders believed in lots of government planning and bureaucracy and all kinds of prohibitions and rules for the way everyone transacts commerce and travels, then why didn’t they set those structures up? Why didn’t they enact all those rules?

            Wait a minute. You said history was pointless. Now you make history up, cite an imaginary past as if history did matter, and as if the stuff your imagination created were actually history.

            You are just wrong. As many founders would have told you, including at least Hamilton, Madison, and John Marshall, who each did say approximately this in the historical record—a constitution is not a code of laws. It cannot be written to encompass specifically every eventuality. Here is Marshall on that point:

            A Constitution, to contain an accurate detail of all the subdivisions of which its great powers will admit, and of all the means by which they may be carried into execution, would partake of the prolixity of a legal code, and could scarcely be embraced by the human mind.

            Which founding document authorizes today’s government? All of them together. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed popular sovereignty, and said in so many words that the American people could choose any form of government they wanted, try it out, change their minds, and do something else, again and again, without limit. Read it. Here is the text which says so:

            That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

            See? No limits. And no axioms. The People can decide on any kind of government they want. They can try it out. And if they don’t like what happens, they can move on and try something else. That is the principle of popular sovereignty which underlies everything else in American government. It proposes to found government on experience, not on rationalism.

            The People decide. Collectively, they rule. Nothing in government constrains what the People may choose to do. They constrain government. The government does not constrain them.

            The Constitution pointedly continued that reasoning with its famous first three words, writ large: “We the People.” Once again, popular sovereignty.

            That announcement at the outset repeats the one lesson the founders wanted to make inescapably clear: The Constitution does not constrain the People. It is the People’s decree, backed by their unlimited power, to create and constrain the government. The government’s powers are limited. The People’s powers are not.

            Try as you may to fit your libertarian axioms into that, you can’t. You have a personal preference for the kind of government you would like to see. No problem there. But then you take the next step, and insist that your preference is not only embodied in the founding documents, but also, those documents prevent other people from deciding anything else. That is the opposite of American history as it happened.

            Once again, if your are a libertarian, stop trying to invoke American history to impose your own ideology on others. American history does not support that.

            Instead, embrace American history as it actually was, and embrace the vast scope it still offers for freedom in politics. Embrace politics, not the courts. Persuade others that the current form of American government is not the best form, that it can be improved, that libertarianism would be an improvement. Real American history encourages all of that.

            Libertarians ought to quit trying to get courts to impose their preferred program on everyone else, and instead put to serious use the freedoms they say are paramount. All you have to do to begin is to embrace one small, easy lesson from American history: to the founders, the word “liberty,” did not mean property, and it usually did not mean civil liberties, nor even rights themselves. The founders,’ “Liberty,” meant self-government on principles of popular sovereignty. That means you can have the kind of government you want, along with the rights you prefer, but you have to work with others to get them.

            Libertarians are a long way from succeeding at that kind of project. But you will never succeed unless you make a serious effort at least to begin. Current libertarian thinking amounts mostly to avid concentration on distractions. That explains, at least in part, why so few people take libertarians seriously. Forget the courts and go back to politics.

            1. Too bad you can’t have a thought about anything without paragraph after paragraph of dumb labels and strawman arguments about some “libertarians” (whoever they are) and your imaginary ideas about what those people think, if they exist.

              Of course none of the founders setup the ridiculous bureaucracy you like. They could have. All you can do is somehow try to make the case that they didn’t expressly prohibit it. They were pretty clear that they didn’t want to trade distant kings for nearby kings or rulers though.

              Now go ahead and post a hundred more paragraphs quoting vague statements that don’t endorse a planned economy and highly-regulated economic activity but don’t directly say it’s evil.

              And then another hundred arguing against strawmen with imaginary absolutist positions.

              1. They were pretty clear that they didn’t want to trade distant kings for nearby kings or rulers though.

                Every time you write, you’re wrong. That is exactly what the founders did want, except they added an innovation—that the nearby rulers you mention would be the People themselves. But otherwise, the founders expected the sovereign American People to enjoy the same all-powerful status as any foreign sovereign, however despotic.

                That is why they said what I quoted from the Declaration of Independence. Didn’t you read it? Do you suppose it means anything other than what it plainly says? If you think so, you will have to find something in the historical record which makes the case.

                The founders notions on that were two-fold. First, they believed history showed as a matter of fact, not theory, that national government without an absolute sovereign power to create it and constrain it was an impossibility. They knew of no example to the contrary—and neither do you, by the way. The rule still holds.

                Power to create government must be absolute. Otherwise some rival power—any power sufficient to constrain a would-be sovereign would be a greater power—could depose the would-be creator of government and act in its stead.

                Second, because the task of making a government requires such unconstrained power, there are always fearsome implications. Those, the founders intended to mitigate. As you suggest, they did not intend to put themselves back into the situation they rebelled against. The founders hit on the genius (and revolutionary) solution of creating dual status for citizens, who would be subjects individually, but sovereign jointly. In that way the sovereign could be made to feel acutely whatever pains or abuses it might inflict, and be held in check by self-interest, if nothing else. Pain for the subjects, felt directly by the sovereign, would inform the sovereign’s wisdom, and thus stay whatever destructive impulses its great power might otherwise enable.

                It has largely worked. Since the founding era, the direct sovereign power of the People has seldom been more in evidence, or so vigorously efficacious, as it has been since the late election. It is for that reason that the would-be dictator Trump, though in full command of the government, finds himself out-matched, out-powered, and out the door.

                1. Can’t argue with delusions

    2. lathrop, don’t be asinine. Today’s economic system of America is capitalism and the free market economy.

      1. Commenter_XY, the test asserts that capitalism is to be found among the principles of American government. Do you know of any authority to back that? Has there ever been any court case which enforced it? What authority can you cite, to support your insult? Anything?

      2. Well, certainly capitalism: Everybody who isn’t living at a hunter-gatherer level is practicing capitalism today, it’s as basic an advance as agriculture or writing. The ‘communists’ just practice state capitalism, instead of private capitalism.

        But, technically, the US used to have a free market system. Right now it’s a mixed economy, with an ever growing crony capitalism component. Once government gets enough say in economic decisions, buying politicians becomes more profitable than buying machine tools.

    3. 12. What is the economic system of the United States?*

      Free market economy

      With regard to historical happenstance, correct for now. As a principle of American government? Those answers are wrong. American has never had any state economic system

      Thank you. As if communism or national socialism (nominal private ownership with heavy government control) were legitimate plug-and-play alternatives.

      Properly speaking, capitalism is a natural corollary of simple economic freedom, where you don’t have to get on bended knee for permission from a bureaucrat waggling his fingers.

      Stop officials from making you get permission to do anything, and free people will invest their money in the enterprises of others they judge sound.

    4. This is like saying that the Constitution does not confer the right of habeas corpus. (The term “habeas corpus” appears exactly once in the Constitution — in Article I, Section 9, which spells out the narrow circumstances in which the right can be suspended. Thus the Constitution does not directly say that the right exists, but does imply that it does.)

      While the Constitution does not mention capitalism per se, it upholds property rights in multiple places, thus implying a system in which individuals have them. The specifics are left to statute, but I don’t think we could ever enact Soviet style Communism without violating what’s written there, unless we amend it first.

  5. The test is a joke, a mockery of the process of requiring basic knowledge on the part of would be citizens.

    It is approriate to have a test that potential citizens take to ensure they are familiar with the country they wish to join, but having ambiguous questions, arguable answers and a test that even an expert in U. S. history could not score 100% on is just plain stupid, mean and non-productive. Of course those words could apply to just about everything the Trump people have done with respect to immigration.

    1. I think it’s a national embarrassment to have questions on a citizenship test that are not even accurate. For God’s sake, surely we could have a panel of, say, 2 conservative constitutional lawyers, 2 liberal ones, 2 conservative historians, 2 liberals one (etc), and within a week, come up questions where all members effortlessly agree that the actual test questions are fair. Not everyone is a partisan hack (or nonpartisan, but incompetent). Why does everything have to be so fucking difficult?

      1. Sure, but they’d be questions like, “What is 2 plus 2?”. Maybe, “How many Senators does each state get?”

        Nothing the least values related, and the test IS supposed to be relating American values.

        1. Brett, I disagree with that. American values are perpetually contested. That’s a fact and a national strength at the same time, but no particular point in controversy ought to be demanded as a test of citizenship. What ought to go on a citizenship test are the parts which are not contested.

          1. American values are perpetually contested at the margins. The test here is relating things that never used to be at the margins, and arguably never should be. Things that are basic to our way of life, and without which America won’t be America any longer.

            People who are Americans are entitled to want to change our way of life, even if they want to change it in horrific ways. People who want to be Americans?

            No, if they want to be Americans, they can damned well want our way of life preserved, or they can go join some other country. Maybe we can’t do anything about internal subversives until they commit a crime, but we don’t have to import foreign subversives.

            That’s what this test is about: Not just if you’re aware that each state gets 2 Senators. If you’re aware of what our values are, and whether you can bring yourself to agree with them.

            1. ” American values are perpetually contested at the margins. ”

              At a White, male, right-wing blog, American values are addressed by the marginalized.

          2. People who don’t really like America or American values say stuff like that.

            Always trying to convince themselves their dislike of America and American values is normal and their preferences against America, Americans, and American values are ok.

        2. “American values” can mean opposite things to different people.

          1. Yes, they can, but we don’t need to import more people who think they mean the wrong things, we’ve got too many of them already.

            1. Well Molly wants to import people who have beliefs at odds with “traditional” American values.

              As a subversive, this would strengthen her political allies.

              1. Lots of people, including citizens, have beliefs which are at odds with what you may consider “traditional” American values.

                Here’s a fact: Neither you nor Brett nor Donald Trump get to decide what the correct American beliefs are.

                1. Well, for a month or so, you’re 1/3rd right.

                2. Yes, and most of them are people who immigrated either during the Great Wave or post-1965. Let’s only ask those descended from English or German Protestants, the real Americans, what they think

      2. I found a sample of some questions. Got hung up on a question of who a Representative from the House represents. Among the choices were “people in his district” and “citizens in his district”.

        I had this Representative pegged as a magnanimous guy, so picked the former. Wrong answer!

        1. I did the same thing, and you know what, I think both of us are right and the test was wrong.

          “Well I called my Congressman and he said quote, ‘I’d like to help you son but you’re too young to vote'” the Coasters. That’s a song, not the Constitution.

          1. A past member of Congress from my district (whose name I prefer we forget) was known for brushing off requests by immigrants for procedural help from INS. He felt they didn’t deserve it. I never voted for him.

        2. My wife went through this a bit over a year ago. Like I said below, you don’t have to guess the answers, you get a study guide. All you have to do is remember what the answers are.

          And, yes, I expect my representative to represent the citizens in his district. If the non-citizens want to be represented, they can become citizens, or go home if they’re here illegally.

          1. Which is why the Constitution says apportionment is based on the number of citizens, not the number of inhabitants. Oh wait, never mind . . . .

            1. The Fourteenth Amendment was passed long before we had immigration laws, and introduced our first explicit citizenship clause. It was based very clearly on the Three Fifths Clause, modified to make clear that slavery was not recognized in the counting. Arguing for a strictly textualist interpretation doesn’t make much sense in that light.

              At least not unless one also thinks that the Fourteenth Amendment means that invading armies and foreign diplomats must be counted towards Congressional representation.

              1. I suspect that Ilya is just one bad burrito away from demanding that invading armies be counted and given the vote.

                1. Oh, fuck off with that, Brett.

                  1. He’s already in favor of letting anyone who wants to come here. And opposing ejecting people who came here illegally.

                    It’s not as big a step as you’d like to pretend, from welcoming unarmed invaders, to welcoming armed invaders. We have the right to keep and bear arms, how dare we close our open borders to people exercising that right?

                    1. Don’t pull that dual loyalty crap. It echoes some bad, bad, stuff.

                    2. Oh, give it a rest, I’m bored by left wing outrage. Always thinking other people have to care if you’re outraged at them not agreeing with you, like it creates some obligation on our part to refrain.

                      And where did you get the idea I think Ilya suffers from dual loyalty?

              2. At least not unless one also thinks that the Fourteenth Amendment means that invading armies and foreign diplomats must be counted towards Congressional representation.

                Fun fact: foreign diplomats are counted in the census, and thus towards Congressional representation.

          2. Brett : And, yes, I expect my representative to represent the citizens in his district. If the non-citizens want to be represented, they can become citizens, or go home if they’re here illegally.

            And I would expect my representative to help someone living in his district thru simple professional decency. (apologies for using such a quaint pre-Trump term).

            Also, many categories of non-citizens aren’t illegals (your current Other of choice). Are you saying there’s no obligation for a Representative to help any of them?

            1. Help? Sure. Though helping isn’t actually a formal part of the job of being a legislator. Represent? Nope. They’re not the same thing, not at all the same thing, and representation should be reserved for full members of the polity.

              If the citizens want statute X, and the non-citizens dislike it, the representative should vote for statute X. If you want a say in what our nation’s laws are, become a citizen.

              1. Actually, the representative should vote for statute X if in his judgment it’s good for the country.

      3. “Why does everything have to be so fucking difficult?”

        Because the government is doing it?

      4. They don’t even need that. Just test the questions against groups and see what they get right or wrong a lot of the time. Wrong ones are either poorly worded or just too esoteric to use.

  6. In practice it’s little more than a literacy/mental competence test, as the study guide doesn’t just give you the possible questions, it also gives you the acceptable answers.

    So you don’t have to research them on your own, you don’t have to agree with them, you just need to do a very minor amount of memorization.

    And, yes, some of the questions include normative elements you disagree with. Are there any countries in the world where this wouldn’t be true? I suspect not.

    Sometimes people have to face the fact that their own normative views are not particularly common, and that the majority are entitled to disagree with them.

    1. The first sentence here pretty much wraps up the entire discussion. My wife took this test about 2 years ago. She spent a lot of time studying and was terribly worried about it. She’d ask me questions just to see if I knew the answer; I did for which I thank my grade school teachers.

      It’s not a difficult test and since one has access to the entire test in question/answer format it isn’t that hard. Were they all accurate? No, they weren’t. Expecting them to be accurate in a nuanced manner isn’t going to get you far, after all this is the government we’re talking about.

      It’s a step in a process that takes a long time and is a real pain to go through. Honestly with everything else immigrants have to go through this is a fairly minor thing.

      1. 3ducerist, my wife took the test some 20 years ago. The test was much harder; she passed.

        Note…unlike 95% of the posters here, I also taught the immigrant population the civics test in the People’s Republic of NJ (in Paterson). It was one of the best experiences of my life. The people I taught were new immigrants, arrived in the last year; mostly hispanic, but a healthy dose of arab, and west indian immigrants as well.

        I will never forget the determination by many of those immigrants to not only learn the material, but understand it (the context). That made me dive into US history more deeply…something I never would have done otherwise. They wanted citizenship. How they look at citizenship is qualitatively different than how we do.

        Even then, back in the late 90’s, a number of questions were confusing.

        1. Amen to this.

          My wife had to pass the test in 1998 and it was not easy.

          1. captcrisis, you know what the other ‘killer’ was? The bureaucratic delays between applying for naturalization and actually taking the oath. My wife literally waited for 5 years. We were married for 5 years, and then she applied….and waited 5 more years.

            When she took the oath, our children were ages 8 and 6.

            1. My wife put it off because she wanted to get her money’s worth out of that green card fee.

            2. Commenter XY:
              Yes, that was close to our experience also. She didn’t get her citizenship until 2003.

              One might add that the immigration staff were rude and incompetent. Their specialty was making people wait on a long “information” line and then when we finally got to the window, cutting us off before we’d finished our question — and in the process answering it incorrectly.

              1. OMG! Yes! Same here = …making people wait on a long “information” line and then when we finally got to the window, cutting us off before we’d finished our question — and in the process answering it incorrectly

              2. We went to the embassy in Manila, and got the fee schedule and requirements for a fiancee visa. They didn’t mention that the fees were due to change in a week.

                So the package of documents I mailed them express were mailed back to me by parcel post, at greater expense in postage than the $5 increase in fees I hadn’t known about.

                Paid for visa tracking to know when it would issue. Ended up canceling a ticket bought in advance because the visa hadn’t issued in time, then it arrived in the mail the next day. They had just taken the money and done no tracking.

                OTOH, once she got here everything was polite and orderly.

        2. My step-father took the test about a decade ago and my next-door neighbor took it just last year. Both were thoroughoughly over prepared and nervous going in; both were relieved at how relatively simple the actual test was, and passed easily.

  7. RE: The problem of “who tests the testers.”

    The Senator from Montana might have something to say about that.

    1. Who tests the tester testers?

  8. The people proposing this aren’t able to pass the test themselves.

  9. Is it appropriate to put mayonnaise on a hot dog?

    What is the all-American game? (Hint: It doesn’t involve kicking balls)

    How many wives are you allowed to marry sequentially? Simultaneously? (for female applicants: Calculate the child support payments in a standard divorce scenario)

    Please do an air-guitar rendition of “Panama” (for applicants from Panama, substitute some other song to avoid confusion)

    If the government takes in x dollars in taxes in a given fiscal year, and by mistake spends more than that in expenditures, what cuts should be considered in the next year to make up the difference? (trick question – nobody really cares)

    1. Is it appropriate to put mayonnaise on a hot dog?

      Yes. I did that a couple of weeks ago. It was quite delicious.

      Combine this question with “Well, then, who won the world series last year?” and I’d have been shot at a US checkpoint in a WWII movie.

      1. I did that a couple of weeks ago. It was quite delicious.

        Borderline treason.

        Do you use mayo on pastrami also? That would definitely go over the line.

    2. Mayo, catsup and grilled onions on a 5 Guys dog, split and grilled on the flattop.

  10. The citizenship test is not required for voting.

    Citizenship is. Although I would support a requirement that all voters must pass a similar test (90% or better score) to vote, and politicians must pass a much harder test, 100% to pass, to vote on a law.

    1. If we’re going to test politicians, I want to require that they understand basic economics, and have enough math to work out the real cost, including compound interest, of a typical spending bill.

      1. In my calculus I class, there were economic majors, required to take it. I thought this a bit odd, until I realized that, for one brief instant, at least in theory they understood the derivation of the continuously-compounded interest formula.

        1. Marginal cost is the same thing as a first derivative.

    2. The test for legislators should be an essay test covering the meaning of the legislation, the constitutional justification and a cost benefit analysis.

      The test must be proctored by pedantic 8th grade English teachers, that are at least 50 years old, unless the legislator is Catholic, when the proctors would be nuns with rulers.

      The legislator tests would be graded by the Supreme Court.

      That should keep them all busy and out of mischief.

  11. Voting is not the only benefit of citizenship.

    Creating a voter test brings back memories of tests previously used to deny the vote to actual citizens.

  12. “and have collectively made the US more closed to migration than ever before.”

    Perhaps. But it’s also true that naturalized citizens now make up a record 10 percent of US eligible voters. Which is good, as they all passed the test.

  13. “Moreover, such tests raise the deeper issue of why immigrants are required to pass a test to get the right to vote, but natives are not.”

    “Natives” are subject to compulsory education that requires education in American government. Sure, there might be a small number of people who are born in the US but not educated here, but not many.

  14. I had a job grading the test Indiana high school students had to pass to get their diplomas. The question I was working on had an official answer of 36.4. But about 5% of the students put “36” which was the correct answer, based on the way the question was worded. I was supposed to mark those zero. I refused, and either quit or was fired, it wasn’t clear which.

  15. As others have pointed out, this is the rare case where the actual test is literally the same as (a randomized subset of) the practice test.

    So I don’t see the revisions as seeking to flunk more people out than before. Rather, it seems like taking the opportunity to smuggle in some right-wing propaganda or indoctrination as part of the studying process.

    This also reminds me of an oldie but still a goodie.

    “‘As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,’ [Florida GOP Chairman Jim] Greer said.”

    This one is also quite a gem:

    “‘As far as I’m concerned this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality,’ said Oklahoma state Sen. Steve Russell, a Republican.”

    For sure, if there’s one thing Rs despise above all else, it’s personality cults. =]

    1. If you can’t beat them, join them.

  16. I see several arguable entries, but only a few I would really argue for changing:

    #48. The Vice President is not a member of the Cabinet, while some offices that should be included (the EPA administrator and secretaries of the Navy and Air Force) were left out.

    #55. Please also allow “During good behavior.” (For life unless removed by impeachment.)

    #63. I would have named the amendments: 15th (all races/colors can vote), 19th (women can vote), 24th (no poll tax), 26th (citizens 18 and older can vote). I would also accept the 23rd (presidential voting rights for Washington, DC).

    #77. The biggest reason the colonies sought independence should at least be mentioned: the Proclamation of 1763, which placed a moratorium on settlement west of the Appalachian mountains.

    #101. The US entered WW1 because of the Zimmermann Telegram, a coded message from Germany instructing their ambassador in Mexico City to offer the Mexicans help taking back the American Southwest from the US.

    1. #101. The US entered WW1 because of the Zimmermann Telegram, a coded message from Germany instructing their ambassador in Mexico City to offer the Mexicans help taking back the American Southwest from the US.

      And I’d say the sinking of the RMS Lusitania with the loss of 120 American lives, and others argue our historic ties to England & France.

      And all of those answers are right.

    2. You need to make the questions much simpler. That is my observation.

  17. Hi, Ilya. Support the admission of lawyers from Latin America to practice in the USA. Why do you think black and Hispanic employment busted records under Trump? Why do you think the media and the Democrat governors took down the economic achievements of the greatest President since Washington?

    1. Better yet, Americans getting cheap law degrees in Latin American (and Canadian) law schools being admitted to practice in the US.

      Gotta wonder if Ilya would have a change of heart…

  18. I disagree wifh Professor Somin here.

    Citizenship involves allegiance. Immigrants can reasonably be made to prove loyalty to the United States, while this can be assumed for native born citizens. (The criteria for citizenship decisions don’t have to be reasonable, of course, any more than abortion decisions. But these are.)

    I also think some of the issues with the test are nit-picking. “Universal suffrage” is an established term that has long been understood to exclude people like children, felons, and the insane. And government is absolutely entitled to have an officialideology on things like selective service.

    Loyalty to this country includes establishing that would-be citizens will obey its its laws and fight in its wars. Everything in this country is countroversial, including every aspect of loyalty. If the test had asked people why we pay taxes, Professor Somin would doubtless object that the test is normative, and there are plenty of people im this countey who think taxes are evil and should be abolished. But government is absolutely entitled to impress on would-be citizens the importance of obeying the tax laws, just as iti s entitled to impress on them the importance of obeying the selective service laws. A test is a rational means to do that.

    Loyalty is essential when it comes to fighting. Professor Somin, of course, doesn’t believe in war, and hence particularly objects to countries commanding the kind of loyalty that would condition them to fight for their new country, or ideologies designed to produce that kind of loyalty. But he might as well oppose medical schools and doctors on the grounds that there shouldn’t be any disease. For a person who believes life is fundamentally based on ideas and ought to be based on reason, it’s understandable that the idea of humans getting sick and dying prematurely would seem simply irrational, incompatible with a life of reason and reason’s idea of how things should be. Get rid of the idea, and the thing goes away. No doctors, no disease. If we don’t have to regard the possibility of war as an external reality we have to deal with whether we like it or not, why should we so regard disease?

  19. It could be made constitutional by the 14th amendment if failing the test was declared to be a criminal act.

    In fact I see nothing in The Constitution that prevents any act, including breathing, to being declared criminal by law.

    I’m not saying that would be good, just constitutional.

  20. Liberals fret but
    Conservatives understand:
    ‘What would Steve King do?’

  21. I had to look up my U.S. Representative. In NOVA (Northern Virginia), I know it’ll be a Democrat, so I don’t much care anymore.

  22. “I had to look up my U.S. Representative . . . so I don’t much care anymore.”

    Add ignorance to
    disaffectedness and get
    Conspiracy fans.

  23. “to get voting rights, but not natives.”

    Is the 13th amendment on the test?

  24. 10 questions? When I became a Costa Rican citizen, it was 100 questions and a 200 word essay. Interesting. You get what you put into it. No wonder US citizenship has been devalued into, “What can I get from it?”

    1. Sorry, 20 questions. I took a test with 10 questions.

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