Q&A – The History Of The Census Citizenship Question

Today’s question - (Under) What administration was the language changed on the census?

Bottom Line: The 2020 Census “Citizenship” question is currently being considered by the US Supreme Court. It's a good time to dig into this question. The direct answer to your question is the Truman administration. They were the last to maintain the question on all forms with the Nixon administration being the first to exclude the question. However, there’s a lot more to the story. 

First, let’s take a step back at what the Constitution mandates with the Census. The Census was created under Article 1 section 2 of the US Constitution. Every ten years since 1790, the Census Bureau has been tasked with providing an updated count of persons in every state across the country. The key in this conversation is that it states “persons” not citizens specifically. That obviously leaves room for anyone currently in the country, legally or otherwise, to be counted. The Electoral College representation for Presidential elections, congressional representation, and tax-payer funding all directly tied to the Census, the stakes couldn’t be higher. 

For most of the country’s history, the citizenship question was included on the form. It first appeared in 1820 like this, "how many foreign-born people "not naturalized". Some version of that question was asked on every Census form through 1950. In 1960, there wasn’t any question but in 1970, 80, 90 and 2000 a version of the question was brought back but only included on 5% to 20% of the forms during those years. The Obama administration dropped the question altogether for 2010, making it just the 2nd Census since 1820 that didn’t include a version of the question on at least some forms.  

It's worth mentioning that even if the question is included on the 2020 Census, it wouldn't exclude anyone, regardless of status, from being counted. It would also be the justification used by the Supreme Court if it rules in favor of the Trump administration.

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