My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘constitution’

Pennsylvania to use the 2000 Census for redistricting: WHY?

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Pennsylvanians are apparently living like its 1999. Here’s what the Courthouse News Service had to say:

In January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said a 2011 redistricting plan establishing new districts based on fresh data from the 2010 census was unconstitutional.

That plan, proposed by the state’s five-person Legislative Reapportionment Commission, failed to adequately balance constitutional requirements that districts be compact, contiguous and roughly equal in population.

Of particular concern to the high court was a fourth requirement: that voting districts do not excessively fracture political subdivisions.

The state constitution says voting districts should divide counties, wards and municipalities only when absolutely necessary.

A group of 20 state senators who appealed the 2011 plan offered an alternative redistricting plan that, the group said, does a better job balancing these requirements, particularly when it comes to respecting the integrity of subdivisions.

In a 4-3 decision last month, the court called that plan “powerful evidence” that the commission could have done a better job balancing these factors, and remanded the plan to the commission for revision.

While the revisions are pending, the court directed Pennsylvania to govern its upcoming April 24 primary election with the 2001 redistricting plan, based on census data from 2000.

That directive prompted three federal lawsuits in late January and early February.

The plaintiffs – which include the majority leaders of the state Senate and House, the House speaker, and a Latino rights group – said it would be unconstitutional to use the old districts.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Clarify Social Networking And Blogging Regulations

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

In a memo sent last week to all of its employees, the Census Bureau took a huge swipe at the first amendment of the US Constitution, the right to freedom of speech. The contents of the letter were as follows:

CONFIDENTIALITY AND ETHICS REMINDER

Social Networking and Census Employment

As personal blogging, tweeting, social network sites have become more common and popular, it is not unusual for Federal employees to have an opportunity to write about their work and their employer in a public forum. Please be aware that you cannot disclose any nonpublic information that is protected by statute. You also cannot receive payments for writing about Census programs or operations or about assignments you have been given as a Census employee. In addition, you must be careful to ensure that there is no appearance created that you are writing on behalf of the Bureau of the Census, the Department of Commerce, or the United States Government, when you are writing in your personal capacity.

These rules apply to all employees, as well as those who are professional writers and reporters, so please keep these considerations in mind before writing and publishing or posting an article or other writing about the census or your work as a Census Bureau employee.

As a Federal employee and a hard-working member of the Census Bureau, you have important responsibilities and obligations to the public which impose some limits on you that do not apply to persons in the private sector. Please be mindful of these responsibilities, even when engaging in personal activities such as blogging and posting on web sites.

These restrictions on writings and publications are in addition to the life-time oath you took to uphold the confidentiality of census information. Any wrongful disclosure of confidential census information subjects you to a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment up to 5 years, or both.

*The last part of the letter was underlined, not put in bold, but I put it in bold to illustrate a point.

Just like other government officials and people who work in the private sector, Census Bureau employees are subject to confidentiality laws. However, this does not mean that the government has the right to threaten employees, particularly whistleblowers, as they have in this situation.  The Census Bureau must make clear what workers’ legal obligations are and what are simply the goals of the Census Bureau’s management and public relations team who benefit greatly from problems being kept quiet and unreported.

Accused Murderer Implements the “Census Defense”

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

This is about as weird as it gets in 2010 Censusville…The following comes from the Associated Press:

By GREG BLUESTEIN (AP) – 22 hours ago

ATLANTA — A Georgia man accused of killing two people used an innovative legal strategy Monday in an attempt to get his murder charges dismissed. Call it the Census defense.

Floyd Wayne Williams Jr. wants the charges dropped — or at least his trial delayed — until the 2010 Census is done so that a jury more accurately reflecting the county’s racial makeup can be chosen. Williams, who is black, is to be tried in the south Atlanta’s Clayton County, which has seen a surge in African-American residents since the 2000 Census.

Jury pools in Clayton County, like many other jurisdictions, are drawn from voter registration lists, driver’s license data and utility records. The list is then balanced by race and gender from the Census to reflect a cross-section of the population.

Williams, 31, argued his constitutional rights will be violated if he is tried by a jury drawn from the 2000 Census, when the black population was 50.6 percent, instead of 2007, when the number had swelled to 64.5 percent.

There has been an increase in attorneys using a jury’s racial makeup as a defense argument, in particular as Hispanic and black populations in parts of the country have swelled since the 2000 Census, said Jeffrey Abramson, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law who has written a book about the role of juries.

The U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide whether a Michigan man’s murder convictions should have been tossed out because there were too few black residents in a county’s jury pool. Diapolis Smith, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury for shooting a man in Grand Rapids in 1991.

“It does seem to be a systemic problem nationwide, because it’s difficult updating the list and also because the courts are reluctant to fault the existing lists,” Abramson said.

The challenges like Williams’ are difficult to win, though, he said.

“There’s just a sense that we do the best we can, that it would be difficult to find a list that is more representative,” Abramson said.

Williams’ case has been drawn out since he was charged in 2002 with fatally shooting 48-year-old Alejandro Javier Gutierrez-Martinez and Jose Simon Arias, who was 16 months old, during a 2001 home invasion.

State prosecutors soon announced they would seek the death penalty, but before the trial started Williams escaped the county jail in 2003. He was caught in Baltimore and is currently in jail in Georgia.

At a hearing Monday, Williams’ attorneys contended that Clayton County should either use the 2007 population estimate or wait until the 2010 Census is completed. (more…)

Consequences of the 2010 Census: Redistricting

Friday, February 26th, 2010

There are two major political consequences of the 2010 Census that this site will start to discuss on a more frequent basis. They are redistricting and (re)apportionment. That there are three articles I found today from far-reaching corners of the US that all discuss this topic is a testament to the growing discussion of these issues:

First, some historical background from Florida:

Census to alter political districts

Survey could make district lines more fair

By Abraham Aboraya | February 24, 2010

SEMINOLE COUNTY – It’s 10 simple questions with a decade of implications.

Every 10 years, as per the Constitution, the United States performs a census – a headcount and snapshot of everyone living in the U.S.

The original intent was to make sure that each state got its fair portion of people in the House of Representatives. But that was more than 200 years ago. What does the census mean these days?

The answer may surprise you, as the 2010 census could drastically change the future of politics in Florida – and in Seminole County. This is the first of two articles which will examine how a questionnaire could change the political landscape for the next 10 years, and maybe beyond.

And it all started with a Massachusetts governor in 1812.

The history

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry. But you’ve probably heard of the term gerrymandering.

Gerry was governor during the 1812 election and was responsible for drawing the voting districts. Gerry drew one district that slithered across the state, in the shape of salamander.

Gilbert Stuart drew a cartoon for the Columbian Centinel’s March 26 issue, and editor Benjamin Russel first coined the term gerrymandering to describe the district.

The name stuck, and now when a district is drawn to keep someone elected, or to keep minorities from gaining representation, that’s what it’s called.

And in Florida, there are some strangely shaped districts.

Florida’s salamanders

In South Florida, Florida Senate District 27 touches the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico through more than 140 miles of Florida.

The seat, held by State Senator Dave Aronberg, touches parts of Palm Beach County, Hendry County, Glades County, Charlotte County and Lee County.

Take a look at Florida House District 29: It starts just off the east coast of Florida in Fellsmere and west Vero in Indian River County, snakes west of Palm Bay into Brevard County, and then reaches up like a finger through Cocoa, Port St. John and Titusville. In one area, it’s surrounded on three sides like a peninsula by House District 32.

“They’re all created in those odd configurations in order to accomplish a certain political result,” said Ellen Freidin, the campaign chair for Fair Districts Florida. “They’re all created to be a Democratic or Republican district. And that’s what we’re trying to change.”

Freidin has been working for nearly the last four years to get enough signatures together to propose two constitutional amendments. This November, Floridians will be asked to vote up or down on Amendments 5 and 6.

Both would make it a constitutional requirement that the Florida House, Florida Senate and U.S. House of Representative districts be drawn along existing city, county and water bodies, when possible.

The heart of the issue, Freidin said, is making elections more fair. Florida has some of the least competitive elections in the country.

In the last decade, only 10 members of the Florida House of Representatives and one Florida senator have been defeated as an incumbent running for re-election.

Republican Ralph Poppell has represented District 29 since the 2002 elections, the first election after the district was redrawn. Aronberg has also represented District 27 since 2002.

“Incumbents almost never lose,” Freidin said. “They’re tailor-made to have the voters in there that would want to vote for one of these people.”

What about the Census?

When the 2010 census is finished, all those Florida districts – all those salamanders – will be redrawn by the Florida Legislature.

That’s a once-in-a-decade opportunity that Fair Districts Florida didn’t want to miss.

Mike Ertel, the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections, said that the salamander districts have been an issue forever.

“The whole purpose of the census, if you look at the core and its beginning, the only reason the census exists is to determine the number of people in congress,” Ertel said. “Everything else they do is an add-on to its core mission.”

Second, some discussions in Illinois to change the redistricting process:

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois Senate Democrats want to take the luck of the draw out of legislative and congressional district lines drawn every 10 years.

They proposed a plan Thursday that would allow a “special master” appointed by two Supreme Court justices of different political parties to draw a map in case of gridlock.

The three maps since the 1970 Constitution have been drafted by the political party whose name was drawn from a hat.

The 2010 Census will show population shifts that require new district lines. Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul (KWAH’-may RAW’-ool) says his committee’s plan would allow the Legislature first crack at map-drawing.

A Republican plan says sitting lawmakers should not be involved at all.

Voters have to approve any proposal to change the Constitution this fall.

Third, constitutional changes in Alaska:

Associated Press – February 24, 2010 9:04 PM ET

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – The measure calling for a ballot question and constitutional amendment to add 12 seats to Alaska’s 60-seat Legislature appears to be making headway.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed its version of the measure Wednesday, while the House version gained eight cosponsors from both parties in the last two weeks.

The expansion is intended to ease redistricting after the 2010 Census count is in. Through redistricting, rural districts are expected to grow geographically while urban districts shrink to maintain roughly equal population representation. Over the years, the trend has made rural districts harder to manage. Sen. Albert Kookesh’s is the most egregious example, covering about half the state’s land area across nearly 1,000 miles.

Rebuttal To WSJ Op-Ed

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Two days ago, we posted an op-ed that was published in the Wall Street Journal that called the 2010 Census unconstitutional. Well, Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law shot back with the following piece:

Accounting for the Census Clause

In the inaccurately titled opinion piece (“Our Unconstitutional Census“) published on August 9 in the Wall Street Journal, Messrs. Baker and Stonecipher, a constitutional law professor and pollster respectively, falsely claim that the current practice of counting undocumented persons in the census for the purpose of apportionment is unconstitutional.

The “Census clause” or sometimes called the “Enumeration clause” is found in Article I, 1, § 2, cl. 3 of Constitution.  After taking into account the removal and additions that have occurred with later amendments, that clause reads as follows:  “Representatives . . . shall be apportioned among the several States . . . according to their respective Numbers . . . . 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.”  Further, Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment states that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”

The Constitution uses the word “numbers” or “persons” — not “citizens,” or “legal residents,” or “those lawfully present” as the authors suggest.  Moreover, the Constitution wholly and explicitly empowers Congress to sort out the details.  The express delegation of the responsibility to Congress makes it odd that part of their opinion piece casts Congress fulfilling its constitutional obligations to make the policy determinations guiding the census as a bad thing.

In a move that is sure to irk “strict constructionists” the authors ignore the plain text of the Constitution and cite enabling legislation for support, arguing that the name of first census act used the word “inhabitant” and that the contemporaneous definition of that word were persons entitled to the privileges conferred by the state, which would exclude unlawful residents.  The word “inhabitant,” is not used in the Constitution’s Census clause, but is instead used when describing qualifications of Representatives and Senators.  In the Qualification clauses, the word “inhabitant” probably fairly means what the authors say it means.  But, it is improper for the authors to import a word from other sections of the Constitution into a clause where the framers deliberate and purposely omitted that word and claim that the word is controlling.

Even if Congressional understanding of the Constitution trumps its plain text, the first census act actually suggests reaching a contrary conclusion because that act counted slaves and non-white free persons.  It required the district marshals to swear or affirm an oath that they would undertake a “just and perfect enumeration and description of all persons resident within my district.”  Those facts mean that Congress at least had a more expansive view of “inhabitants” than the authors would allow, and as the Constitution indicates, Congress gets to make the call as to the details.

The authors invoke the Wesberry v. Sanders principle that there should be rough equivalents of voting citizens in state legislative districts.  Justice Rehnquist, however, in an opinion in the mid-90s rejected the application of the Wesberry principle to Congress when conducting the census.  He also noted that the Court had reached the same conclusion on two prior occasions because of the latitude given to Congress under the Constitution and because the districts at issue in Wesberry were intra-state, but federal apportionment required interstate review which could not be done with the same precision.  Even the Supreme Court disagrees with the authors.

There are good policy reasons for including all residents in a state when conducting apportionment.  A district’s representation affects everyone in the district; moreover a district’s representation is impacted by everyone in the district.

The authors may disagree that apportionments should be influenced by enumerations of undocumented persons, but it is false that the current practice of doing so is unconstitutional.

Crime but no punishment…

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Federal law requires participation in the census, and failure to respond to the 2010 Census can result in a $100 fine. Providing false answers carries a more hefty $500 fine.

However, MyTwoCensus is willing to go beyond saying that these punishments are rarely enforced, as it seems that they are NEVER enforced. At least they haven’t been in our lifetimes…

In an April 14 conversation between MyTwoCensus and Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner, we learned that “The Census Bureau is not a law enforcement agency. We try to make Americans understand the importance of completing the census, but we don’t try to enforce those penalties.”

If you fail to participate in the census, don’t lose sleep over it because the the Attorney General won’t have an armada of prosecutors and U.S. Marshals chasing you down…