House GOP passes bill to add citizenship question to census


House Republicans on Wednesday passed a bill that calls for adding a citizenship question to the decennial census, re-upping an issue that the Supreme Court blocked in 2019.

The legislation — titled the Equal Representation Act — cleared the chamber in a party-line 206-202 vote.

The measure would direct the Census Bureau to add a question to the 10-year survey asking for the respondent’s citizenship status and require that the U.S. only consider citizens when determining the number of congressional seats each state receives.

Targeting that apportionment would give Republicans a pathway to slicing away at the impact of high-population, liberal-leaning states like California.

“We should not reward states and cities that violate federal immigration laws and maintain sanctuary policies with increased Congressional representation,” Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said in a statement after the vote. “Common sense dictates that only American citizens should be counted for electoral apportionment, and the Equal Representation Act ensures that.”

But adding the question raises fears it would chill the response rate to the Census, which through the Constitution directs counting “the whole number of free persons.”

The government and nonprofits have dedicated years to education efforts encouraging noncitizens to respond to the Census, noting participation is never a basis for immigration enforcement.

Democrats railed against the legislation as an attack on immigrant communities.

“A citizen’s only census, as this legislation intends, is reckless, cynical, and frankly, illegal,” Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said on the House floor Wednesday. “It is not the Census Bureau’s job to keep track of immigration status.”

In a statement of administration policy issued this week, the Biden administration said it “strongly opposes” the measure “which would preclude the Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau from performing its constitutionally mandated responsibility to count the number of persons in the United States in the decennial census.”

In pushing forward the concept, the House seeks to force an action first raised by the Trump administration, only to be later blocked by the Supreme Court.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made a last-minute effort to add the question to the 2020 Census, overruling the advice of Census Bureau experts and taking up a key priority of then-President Trump in approving the question. 

But the Trump administration failed to justify the move amid legal challenges, ultimately losing at the high court as Chief Justice John Roberts determined the government gave a “contrived” answer about its motivations for adding the question.

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