Recently, in bright red and blue paint, the D.C. sidewalks spoke. “Keep the Faith and Vote for Science.” In a town where everything is political, this message seemed untethered from any particular candidate or party. But what does it mean to “vote for science?” Fundamentally, it means a vote for accuracy, where and when accuracy is possible. In relationship to the accuracy of our political representation, the census must include the question: “Are you a citizen of the United States?”
The United States is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” In our constitutional republic, the Founding Fathers’ writings were intentional and scientific — drawing from their research, study and historical observations. Unlike other political experiments, the American experiment sought to leverage the “new” science of politics — to evaluate human nature as it was and as it is.
This new American experiment tried to be accurate, accounting for the realities of human nature — thereby rejecting a ruling class through the Founders’ purposeful design of a republic.
Federalist No. 9 explains that the American republic will succeed, partially because the “science of politics, like most other sciences, has received great improvement.” It continues that the “efficacy of various principles is now well understood, which were either not known at all, or imperfectly known to the ancients,” and then lists features distinctive to the U.S. Constitution: Separation of powers, legislative checks and balances, elected representatives, and more.
These features were “wholly new discoveries,” or had at least made their principal progress toward perfection in modern times. They are means, and powerful means, “by which the excellences of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.” In other words, the Constitution is scientific.
Among the other features of our scientific Constitution is its powerful role in securing rights as derived from the consent of the governed. Foreign nationals come to the United States as visitors, temporary workers and students — without the government forcing them to become citizens. However, as non-citizens — as non-voting members of society, their allegiance is to their native country. Accordingly, the U.S. government needs to know to whom it serves and to whom it answers.
The Trump administration has sought to include the question of citizenship in the 2020 census — something that nations have done since ancient times (the Bible notes multiple censuses, taken by various nations and used for various purposes).
Today, U.S. allies like Australia and Canada continue to ask the question. Indeed, the United States has asked about citizenship on the census for 130 years — and the U.S. government continues to ask about citizenship in its annual American Community Survey. The citizenship question is so prevalent that it is a primary inquiry every time someone applies for a job, opens a bank account or enrolls in school.
Although a prevalent question, the left is fighting this question and within the next few weeks, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman, an Obama nominee and brother to Jason Furman, an economic adviser to President Obama, will decide whether Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross acted legally when he decided to include the citizenship question on the census for the first time since 1950.
According to The New York Times: “Judge Furman will nonetheless be weighing in on an issue with enormous stakes. A significant undercount of minorities would skew the allotment of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal money, distort business decisions based on census data and potentially alter the reapportionment of state and local political districts and the House of Representatives in 2021.
“Because noncitizens live primarily in areas that vote Democratic, reduced census totals would likely increase Republican representation.”
No matter Judge Furman’s ruling, this case is expected to be heard and decided by the U.S. Supreme Court by June of 2019. The fear mongering surrounding this proposed question in the census is simply a distraction from the fundamental question: Should the United States have accurate information about its citizens who are legally able to vote and, thereby, be accurately represented?
The answer is yes. Unlike a monarchy, which rules everyone regardless of citizenship status, the social contract and the consent of the governed make citizenship an essential question in the United States. Every 10 years, it is important to know how many people are citizens of this nation. To ignore the question not only violates our social contract with our government, but ignores international and historic norms. Only citizens need to stand up and be counted — this action is not uniquely American — it is scientific.
This op-ed originally appeared on December 24, 2018 in the Washington Times.