WASHINGTON – The controversy over the inclusion of a question on citizenship on the 2020 US Census went to the Supreme Court on Tuesday amid the shouts of opponents gathered outside the judicial seat and the positions of the magistrates.
The nine high court justices, five conservatives and four progressives, listened for about 80 minutes to arguments for and against the citizenship question, which has not been included on Censuses since 1950 and has been rejected by federal courts in California, New York and Maryland.
US Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who is tasked with defending the government of President Donald Trump in the courts, argued in favor of including the question proposed in March 2018 by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Local media reported that Francisco said that Ross, despite understanding the negatives that the question could entail, came to the conclusion that the benefits of including the question in next year’s count of all persons in the US outweighed the costs.
However, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the progressives on the high court and the lone Hispanic, replied that “The enumeration is how many people reside here, not how many are citizens. That’s what the census survey is supposed to figure out.”
Sotomayor said that “nobody doubts” that asking about respondents’ citizenship will reduce Census response rates, adding that Hispanics – in particular – have “a legitimate fear” of immigration authorities and calling the citizenship question “a solution in search of a problem.”
A study by the Office of the Census found that at least 6.5 million people would not participate in the Census if a question about their citizenship were to be included.
Press reports indicate that the conservative magistrates on the court are inclined to allow the inclusion of the controversial question.
Outside the Supreme Court, pro-immigrant activists – most of them Hispanics – protested against including the question.
“The Constitution says to count everyone, not just citizens,” read one of the signs displayed by the roughly 100 protesters awaiting the close of the high court session, and representatives from Asian communities demanded that they not be made “invisible,” which they claimed such a question would do by discouraging their members from participation in the Census.
“That’s a question that is racist, it’s manipulative, they’re using something that’s sacred such as civil rights to justify a racist question,” Gustavo Torres told EFE.
Torres warned that the “basic aim” is to eliminate 6.5 million people from the Census, a move – in his judgment – that could affect vital matters such as the distribution of federal resources and the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives.
“The reason why it’s so important that people let themselves be counted is because here in this country that information is used every 10 years to assign funds for the next 10 years that go for education, for healthcare, for housing, for recreation for our families,” he added.
Meanwhile, Cataliza Aristizabal, the co-director of the Make the Road New York organization, emphasized the importance of the Census in determining legislative representation.
“For New York, which is a very populous state, we could lose up to two representatives in the lower house if they don’t count everyone,” she warned.
People from various other sectors in California, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Texas have expressed themselves along the same lines.
Aristizabal said that this “is a change” for the Census, but in addition “it’s another tactic of this administration, which has been very anti-immigrant.”