The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Citizenship question causes census kerfuffle

Politics | Proposed change sparks legal battle over the 2020 survey
by Evan Wilt
Posted 3/29/18, 03:01 pm

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration created an uproar this week over the 2020 U.S. Census when it announced the survey would ask respondents about their citizenship status.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ memorandum about the change, issued late Monday night, sparked legal challenges and backlash from critics who say the question could drastically skew results.

The Trump administration defended the decision by claiming that recording an accurate number of the voting-eligible population through the census would aid in identifying potential voting rights violations.

“I would argue that this has been the practice of the United States government,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters about the decision Tuesday. “The purpose is to determine individuals that are here. It also helps to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Without that information, it’s hard to make those determinations.”

The Census Bureau used to ask about citizenship status in every census but stopped the practice in 1950, reserving the question for the more limited long-form questionaire sent to a smaller selection of households. In 2010, the agency didn't send any long forms, effectively removing the question altogether.

At least 12 states signaled Tuesday they would sue the Trump administration to block the citizenship question. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he would lead a multistate lawsuit because the question would result in an undercount of the population and threaten federal funding for local communities. California filed a separate legal challenge Monday night.

An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Most are in or near major metropolitan areas, and local officials worry the citizenship question might spur millions of residents to skip the census altogether, skewing results and raising costs to collect accurate information on the U.S. population.

The government uses census data, collected every 10 years, to determine the number of congressional districts in each state, set up school districts, allocate resources, and determine other important government functions.

“The census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump administration to botch this important decennial obligation. What the Trump administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to discourage an accurate census count.”

But many rushed to the administration’s defense.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Tuesday that getting an accurate count of U.S. citizens should be the highest priority for the census.

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, said basing representation on something other than citizenship is problematic. “Otherwise citizens are underrepresented,” he tweeted. “For example, California gets roughly three extra members of Congress based on estimates of illegal residents.”

Democrats are pressuring Republicans to challenge the proposal. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, requested hearings on the issue. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel’s chairman, set up a briefing with Commerce and Census Bureau officials next month, according to The Washington Post.

Ross said he placed the citizenship question last on the census form in order to minimize its negative impact. But Democrats and many state leaders won’t be satisfied until Ross agrees to remove the question from the process altogether.

Associated Press/Photo by Jeff Chiu Associated Press/Photo by Jeff Chiu A reporter holds a phone showing the Facebook app.

Facebook fallout

Facebook announced Wednesday it is adjusting its privacy settings amid backlash over how the company handles user data.

In a post on the social media platform, two Facebook executives outlined changes to the site’s privacy tools—namely making them easier to find.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find and that we must do more to keep people informed,” wrote Erin Egan, the company’s chief privacy officer, and Ashlie Beringer, its deputy general counsel. 

They promised bigger changes are on the horizon: “It’s also our responsibility to tell you how we collect and use your data in language that’s detailed, but also easy to understand. In the coming weeks, we’ll be proposing updates to Facebook’s terms of service that include our commitments to people. We’ll also update our data policy to better spell out what data we collect and how we use it.”

The changes come amid growing distrust of the company after the revelation that political data firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked on ads for the Trump presidential campaign in 2016, obtained information on about 50 million U.S. Facebook users.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has participated in a string of media interviews about the incident during the past week but soon will have to answer even more questions. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee, the Federal Trade Commission, and attorneys general from 37 states said this week they are advancing Facebook probes to get to the bottom of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said on Monday he has scheduled a hearing on April 10 to review the issue and invited Zuckerberg to testify. 

“The hearing will broadly cover privacy standards for the collection, retention, and dissemination of consumer data for commercial use,” Grassley said in a statement. “It will also examine how such data may be misused or improperly transferred and what steps companies like Facebook can take to better protect personal information of users and ensure more transparency in the process.”

Zuckerberg has said he plans to come to Capitol Hill to face lawmakers’ wrath personally. —E.W.

Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli Planned Parenthood supporters gather for the Capitol Pink Out Day 2017 rally in Sacramento, Calif.

Planned Parenthood gets its money

Congress and President Donald Trump signed off on a spending bill last week that grants another $500 million in Medicaid-based taxpayer subsidies to Planned Parenthood.

Lawmakers jammed many things into the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill that funds the government through the end of September, but pro-life groups voiced outrage over the abortion giant’s continued funding under a Republican government.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, usually an outspoken Trump supporter, called the process a betrayal of the pro-life voters who put Republicans in power.

“Christians specifically should be outraged by the inclusion, once again, of half a billion dollars in taxpayer funding for the country’s No. 1 abortion provider, Planned Parenthood,” he said in a rare statement critical of the president. “Along with millions of other evangelicals, I am beyond disappointed that even while conservatives hold the presidency and both houses of Congress, we were unable to secure much more in this bill. Let this betrayal be a reminder to all those who fight on the side of life, that the pro-abortion forces in this nation will never stop and therefore, we too must always remain vigilant.”

Trump promised to sign legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, and Republican leaders claim it’s a priority, but Congress has failed to even consider a spending bill that would strip the abortion group of its money.

Each year, Planned Parenthood performs roughly 330,000 abortions. Hyde Amendment protections, passed in this year’s spending bill, continue to block federal funds from paying for abortions directly, but pro-lifers insist funding for other services indirectly enables abortions.

Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for March for Life, said lawmakers have abandoned the traditional appropriations process and Planned Parenthood will continue to receive funding until leaders upend business as usual.

“Congress is broken,” he concluded. —E.W.

Female senators drive harassment vote

All 22 female U.S. senators decried the Senate’s inaction on workplace sexual harassment reforms, signing a letter demanding a vote on proposed legislation.

The House approved a measure in February to revamp the 1995 law outlining how Congress should deal with sexual harassment. The legislation soared through the lower chamber with broad bipartisan support, but the Senate has yet to move on the bill.

Both Republican and Democratic female senators expressed their “deep disappointment” over the process and asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to call up a vote as soon as possible.

“Survivors who have bravely come forward to share their stories have brought to light just how widespread harassment and discrimination continue to be throughout Capitol Hill,” the senators wrote. “No longer can we allow the perpetrators of these crimes to hide behind a 23-year-old law.”

Lawmakers considered attaching the sexual harassment reforms to the spending package passed last week but decided against it at the last minute. If passed, the bill would expedite the arduous process for handling sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill and most importantly, hold lawmakers personally liable for paying settlements, instead of having taxpayers foot the bill. —E.W.

McConnell hypes hemp

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced this week it’s time to ease restrictions on hemp production. McConnell said Monday he will introduce legislation to allow states to regulate their own hemp industries. Hemp has been a controlled substance since 1970 because it shares similar properties with marijuana, but it is not considered a drug. When Colorado in 2013 became the first state to permit marijuana use for recreational purposes, U.S. lawmakers allowed it and several other states to begin pilot programs for growing hemp. Current federal law permits hemp production for research purposes only, but it has a variety of agricultural uses, from producing paper to creating certain kinds of fabric. Most of the world’s hemp now comes from France. McConnell could push to include his hemp legislation in the farm bill that must pass before the end of September. —E.W.

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Evan Wilt

Evan is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD reporter.

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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Fri, 03/30/2018 02:00 pm

    Dr. Dobson is wrong.  We do not need to be "outraged" at Congress's "betrayal."  We need to patiently persuade people in this democratic republic.

  •  CaptTee's picture
    Posted: Fri, 03/30/2018 11:27 pm

    From 1850 when wives and children were first listed in the Census until 1950, there were citizenship and birthplace questions asked in the Census. So, this is much ado about nothing.