Law and Politics

The Census Under Attack

Importance of the count

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  • The U.S. census is 7 basic questions for citizens to answer and submit. [U.S. Census Bureau]

  • It is constitutionally mandated to happen every 10 years. [NPR]

  • The census also includes the American Community Survey (ACS), which is an extension of the basic 7 questions. [U.S. Census Bureau] It includes about 60 questions that are protected under law. [The Washington Post]

  • The census is overseen by the U.S. Census Bureau.

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  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed including a citizenship question within the next 2020 census. [The New York Times]
  • This caused more than two dozen states to file a lawsuit to remove the question. [NPR]
  • The census has not asked all U.S. households about citizenship since 1950. [NPR], [Pew Research]


The count "underpin[s] government programs." [The Washington Post]

This helps the government make critical decisions like where to place schools, how to staff veterans' hospitals, and how to plan for emergencies in every town and city in the country. [NPR] It also helps the government reapportion seats for the House of Representatives, direct funding for public health programs, public education, and transportation networks. [Vox]


A lack of funding for essentials in a community could happen if an undercount or miscount occurs.


Voting Rights Act

The DOJ says it needs a better count of voting-age citizens in order to enforce against racial discrimination. Specifically, the DOJ stated it needs the data to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. [NPR]



American Community Survey

The American Community Survey (ACS) already includes a question about citizenship. Unfortunately, the ACS reaches only 2% of the population [Pew Research]. Supporters believe including the question in the census could help reach more Americans.



Policy decisions

Some believe knowing how many undocumented individuals are in the country could help inform government decisions, including funding and appropriations.



The U.S. Census Bureau previously found negative effects on participation when a question of citizenship was included in the count. [U.S. Census Bureau] 


Since the question has not been included for decades, many believe the question will discourage non-citizens and communities of color from submitting. [NPR]



Bi-partisan support

Both Republicans and Democrats have cautioned against the question, as they are worried about undercounting. [The Washington Post]



Shady reasons

Some believe the response to the question will be used to help other efforts not related to voting. For example, in 2004, the Census Bureau gave the Department of Homeland Security specific information on where Arab-Americans lived. [The New York Times]


  • After the Trump administration announced the decision, the Census Bureau director, John Thompson, stepped down.

  • The Democratic National Convention (DNC) filed a subpoena to force the Bureau to release internal documents about the decision to add. [NPR]

  • June 8, 2017: Census Bureau released those internal documents, which revealed internal warnings about including the citizenship question. [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform] There are no current plans to remove the question. 

  • Civil rights groups are getting in the fight. [USAToday]
Key Vocabulary