Trump administration to test 2020 census questions; coalition forms in Arkansas

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 821 views 

Even with unanswered questions concerning the 2020 census that the U.S. Supreme Court will likely decide on later this month, the U.S. Department of Commerce is moving ahead with a test run for the recurring 10-year national population count less than a year from now.

The Commerce Department’s Census Bureau said Tuesday (June 11) that more than 480,000 homes across the U.S. will receive a pilot questionnaire this week measuring the operational effects of a controversial citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

Census Bureau officials said the pre-test will randomly assign households to two panels and ask them to respond to questions expected to appear on the 2020 Census form. Panel A will include the controversial question on citizenship supported by President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, but Panel B will not.

“Findings from the nationwide test will assist in determining updates to 2020 Census operations, such as how many census takers are needed to follow up with non-responding households and how to better communicate with households about the 2020 Census,” Census Bureau officials said in a news release.

As the principal agency of the nation’s federal data and research system, the Census Bureau conducts more than 30 monthly, quarterly and annual business surveys that measure the U.S. economy, population, labor force and other data that offer statistical glimpses into the American life.

The economic census is the Commerce Department bureau’s largest program and serves as the benchmark for nearly all the other economic surveys produced by the federal government. It also serves as an important input for other key economic indicators for the U.S. economy, such as the gross domestic product (GDP) and nation’s monthly employment snapshot.

In March 2018, the Census Bureau first delivered its planned questions to U.S. lawmakers for the 2020 census, which include age, sex, Hispanic origin, race, relationship, homeownership status and citizenship status. By law, the Commerce Department delivered decennial census questions to Congress two years out from so-called Census Day, which kicks off on April 1, 2020.

“The goal of the census is to count every person living in the United States once, only once and in the right place,” said Ron Jarmin, the acting director of the bureau. “The 2020 Census is easy, safe and important. The census asks just a few questions and takes about 10 minutes to respond. For the first time, you can choose to respond online, by phone or by mail.”

After announcing plans for the 2020 census last year, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the citizenship question was being reinstated to the decennial population count to help President Donald Trump enforce the Voting Rights Act, the 54-year old law meant to protect minority voting privileges. However, the ACLU and other civil rights groups sued the administration a year ago to try and prevent census takers from quizzing residents about their citizenship, which they said could miscount millions of Hispanics and other minorities now residing in the U.S.

In January, U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Furman of the U.S. Southern District of New York ordered the Trump administration in a 277-page ruling to halt its plan to include the controversial citizen question on the census forms in the national head count. Furman also raised questions concerning whether Ross knew ahead of time of a Department of Justice letter sent to Commerce Department officials in late 2017 that formally requested that the citizenship test be added to the census as part of a GOP consultant’s plan to redraw U.S. redistricting maps in favor of Republican electoral candidates.

“It is hard, if not impossible, to identify with precision when Secretary Ross first made the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census – particularly in the absence of a position (by) Secretary Ross himself,” Furman wrote on Jan. 15. “But based on the foregoing recording, the Court finds – by well more than a preponderance of the evidence – that Secretary Ross had made the decision months before the DOJ sent its letter on Dec. 12, 2017.”

Furman is the same federal judge for the influential U.S. district court in lower Manhattan who also wrote another colorful order in February that pushed Little Rock-based Windstream Holdings Inc. into bankruptcy. In the Department of Commerce v New York ruling, Furman opined that Ross violated the enumeration clause of the U.S. Constitution by keeping the public and his own staff in the dark that the citizenship quiz could possibly lead to an inaccurate census count.

“Accordingly …, the Court vacates Secretary’s Ross decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire, enjoins Defendants from implementing Secretary Ross’s March 26, 2018 decision or from adding a question to the 2020 census questionnaire without curing the legal defects identified in this Opinion, and remands the matter of the Secretary of Commerce (to the extent that such a “remand’ is even necessary) for further proceedings not inconsistent with the Court’s Order,” wrote Furman.

Following Furman’s order six months ago, the Justice Department appealed the case to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the federal judge erred in instructing Ross not to reinstate the citizenship question under the U.S. Administrative Procedure Act. Trump administration officials also asked the nation’s high court to overturn the New York federal judge’s ruling that Ross’s census decision violated the enumeration clause of the U.S. Constitution.

DOJ officials also questioned whether Furman could order discovery outside the administration record to probe the mental processes of Ross if the Supreme Court lifts the stay on the lower court’s earlier ruling. On Feb. 15, the Supreme Court granted the Trump administration’s appeal of Furman’s ruling, and began hearing oral arguments in the case in April.

Last week, ACLU attorneys filed a motion in federal district court that Trump administration officials should be sanctioned because new evidence contradicts testimony and representations by senior government officials and lawyers in the case, according to the widely-read ScotusBlog.

That new information, ACLU officials contend, suggests that the same Republican strategist that was involved in the DOJ’s 2017 decision to insert a citizenship question in the census, wanting to create an advantage for whites and Republicans in future elections. Trump administration officials have called the accusations “meritless,” and an “eleventh-hour” effort to “derail the Supreme Court’s resolution of the case,” the ScotusBlog notes.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision by the end of June, allowing the government to complete the census questionnaire and begin printing it. Testimony at Senate hearings in late 2017 forecast that the 2020 Census will costs about $15.6 billion, or about $107 per household.

In Arkansas on Wednesday (June 12), a coalition called Arkansas Counts launched with an aim towards making sure the Census is accurate across the state.

The Complete Count Committee (CCC) is composed of 21 community leaders committed to increasing awareness and motivating Arkansas residents to be counted in the upcoming census.

CCC members are preparing to meet at the Southeast Arkansas Regional Library in Monticello, on June 21. Arkansas Counts is led by Arkansas Impact Philanthropy, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Arkansas United, and Arkansas Public Policy Panel, with support from the national Census Equity Fund.

“Even a small undercount of one percent of our state’s residents could result in Arkansas losing up to $750 million in federal funding,” said Sarah Kinser, chief program officer of Arkansas Community Foundation. “With complete and correct data, we will ensure Arkansas continues to receive the resources it needs to increase job opportunities, build roads, assist schools and repair communities’ infrastructure.”

CCC members were selected through an online application process. They include:

Terry Bearden, chief operations officer of Arkansas Community Action Agencies Association
Rubye Black Johnson, vice president of NAACP of Crittenden County; member of West Memphis Area Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Bobby Hart, superintendent of Hope Public School District
Gina Gomez, executive director of Hispanic Community Services, Inc.
Esther Dixon, Garland County Justice of the Peace, District 3
Regan Gruber Moffitt, member of Arkansas Impact Philanthropy; chief strategy officer of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
Laura Kellams, Northwest Arkansas director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
Melisa Laelan, executive director of Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese
Margot Lemaster, executive director of EngageNWA
Ronika Morgan, outreach chair of Arkansas State Parent Teachers Association
Tanisha Richardson-Wiley, hometown health improvement section chief of Arkansas Department of Health
Sarah Scanlon, principal of Southern Strategies
Shelley Short, vice president of programs and partnerships of Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce
Tomiko Townley, advocacy director of Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance
Dr. Gary Wheeler, vice president of American Academy of Pediatrics Arkansas Chapter

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