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Why Trump Is Dead Wrong About the Census

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Eric Zuesse

U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to add questions to the U.S. Census, but that would be illegal for him to do, at present, and not because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on the matter (which it really hasn’t yet), but because the U.S. Constitution itself states in clear and unambiguous terms that he can’t do that, and because no President in U.S. history has even tried to do it without having received prior explicit authorization from the Congress to do it (which is what Trump is trying to do — do it without an act of Congress) — all of them who preceded Trump had (as Trump seems not to have) read the Constitution, which makes unambiguously clear that they’re simply not allowed to do such a thing, unless a law has been passed allowing him/her to.

The first lengthy clause in the U.S. Constitution (there are only three clauses in it that are lengthy) comes almost immediately after the Preamble, and it is quite explicit that the only way in which a change to the questions in the U.S. Census can be made, is by an act of Congress, passed by the Congress, and signed into law by the President. For example, the third U.S. Census was taken in 1810, and it was the very first Census in which a question had been added (to the three then-existing ones, which had been asked ever since the first Census, in 1790). As the U.S. Census Bureau explains on its website,

“In addition to population inquiries, the 1810 census was the first to collect data about the nation’s manufactures. A May 1, 1810, act directed that, ‘it shall be the duty of the several marshals, secretaries, and their assistants aforesaid, to take, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, and according to such instructions as he shall give, an account of the several manufacturing establishments and manufactures within their several districts, territories, and divisions.’ The act did not outline specific questions or prescribe a schedule, leaving those matters to the Secretary of the Treasury’s discretion.”

Here, then, is that complete Clause in the Constitution (and I boldface key phrases):

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. 343 The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut, five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

Consequently, for example, persons in prison are to be counted in the Census, and are to be asked the questions that have been authorized to be included in it.

There is no authorization, in the Constitution, to exclude a person on account of his/her citizenship status. It’s not a count of citizens. It is a count of persons. The phrase “three fifths of all other persons” was referring to slaves; but those were outlawed to exist since the Civil War — and even they had been counted as 60% of a “person.”

Trump obviously thinks he possesses legal authorization to add citizenship questions, just by his diktat. That’s not Constitutional. He ought to read the Constitution. After all, he swore an oath to adhere to it.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.


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