today in black history

September 29, 2020

Journalist Gwen Ifill, host of the PBS program "Washington Week," is born in 1955 in Queens, New York.

To Be Equal

POSTED: August 31, 2020, 9:00 am

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“Having helped to plan, execute or lead five decennial censuses serving nine Presidents of both parties, our expert opinion is that failing to extend the deadlines to April 39, 2021, will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country, The Census Bureau will not be able to carry out the nonresponse follow-up fully and will be forced to take steps such as fewer in-person visits and rely instead on the use of administrative records or statistical techniques on a much larger scale than in previous census. The end result will be under-representation of those persons that nonresponse follow-up was expected to reach, and at even greater rates for traditionally hard-to-count populations with potentially extreme differential undercounts.” -- Former U.S. Census Bureau Directors Vincent Barabba, Robert Groves, Kenneth Prewitt, and John Thompson

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order remove millions of undocumented immigrants from the population data Congress uses to apportion House seats among the states.

In order to carry out the order, which is widely regarded as unconstitutional, he needs to receive that population data while he’s still in office. The Census Bureau’s COVID-19 Plan would push that date to April 30, when a new President is likely to be in office. So the administration is scrapping the COVID-19 Plan and replacing it with a Rush Plan.

The National Urban League is suing to stop them.

The Rush Plan, announced August 18, slashes a crucial four weeks from the Census data collection operation and ignores the Bureau’s own prior conclusions that such rushed processing renders it impossible to fulfil its constitutional obligation to ensure reasonable quality and accuracy of 2020 Census data.

“Both the text of the Rush Plan announcement and the timing of the decision suggest that the federal government’s motivation for the Rush Plan is to facilitate another illegal act: suppressing the political power of communities of color by excluding undocumented people from the final apportionment count,” our lawsuit states. “To increase the chance that the President can fully effectuate the apportionment exclusion order, he must receive the population totals while he is still in office.”

The American people are about to be cheated out of a fair and accurate Census count because politics has infected the process. We will not accept a count that has been manipulated to deprive communities of color of their rightful share of resources and political representation.

With the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, led by Kristen Clarke, serving as our pro bono counsel, our co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the League of Women Voters, Harris County in Texas, King County in Washington, the cities of Los Angeles, San Jose, and Salinas (California), and Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia of the Harris County Commissioners Court.

The suit names as defendants the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau, along with their heads, Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.

When it became clear in April that the coronavirus pandemic would make it impossible for census workers to conduct house visits, the Census Bureau asked Congress to approve a new timeline, adjusting the deadlines for critical operations but not shortening the time allotted for them. Door-knocking was pushed from May through July 2020 to August through October 2020. The deadline for reporting the state-population totals, used to calculate the congressional apportionment, to the President was extend from December 31, 2020 to April 30, 2021.

At the time, even President Trump recognized the need for the shift. “I don’t know that you even have to ask [Congress],” he said. “This is called an act of God. This is called a situation that has to be. They have to give in. I think 120 days isn’t nearly enough.”

We agree. That’s why we’ve asked the court to declare the his Rush Plan unlawful and put the 2020 Census back on the COVID-19 schedule proposed by census officials in April.

The 14th Amendment requires that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state…”

As the Census Bureau’s own website says: “The Founders of our fledgling nation had a bold and ambitious plan to empower the people over their new government. The plan was to count every person living in the newly created United States of America, and to use that count to determine representation in the Congress. Enshrining this invention in our Constitution marked a turning point in world history. Previously censuses had been used mainly to tax or confiscate property or to conscript youth into military service. The genius of the Founders was taking a tool of government and making it a tool of political empowerment for the governed over their government.”


Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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