AP

Accuracy at core of Supreme Court case over census question

Apr 21, 2019, 9:06 PM
supreme court census immigration...
FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2019, file photo, the Supreme Court is seen at sunset in Washington. Vast changes in America and technology have dramatically altered how the census is conducted. But the accuracy of the once-a-decade population count is at the heart of the Supreme Court case over the Trump administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The justices hear arguments in the case Tuesday, April 23. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

By MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Elena Kagan’s father was 3 years old when the census taker came to the family’s apartment on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, New York, on April 10, 1930.

Robert Kagan was initially wrongly listed as an “alien,” though he was a native-born New Yorker. The entry about his citizenship status appears to have been crossed out on the census form.

Vast changes in America and technology have dramatically altered the way the census is conducted. But the accuracy of the once-a-decade population count is at the heart of the Supreme Court case over the Trump administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The justices are hearing arguments in the case on Tuesday, with a decision due by late June that will allow for printing forms in time for the count in April 2020.

The fight over the census question is the latest over immigration-related issues between Democratic-led states and advocates for immigrants, on one side, and the administration, on the other. The Supreme Court last year upheld President Donald Trump’s ban on visitors to the U.S. from several mostly Muslim countries. The court also has temporarily blocked administration plans to make it harder for people to claim asylum and is considering an administration appeal that would allow Trump to end protections for immigrants who were brought to this country as children.

The citizenship question has not been asked on the census form sent to every American household since 1950, and the administration’s desire to add it is now rife with political implications and partisan division.

Federal judges in California, Maryland and New York have blocked the administration from going forward with a citizenship question after crediting the analysis of Census Bureau experts who found that a question would damage the overall accuracy of the census and cause millions of Hispanics and immigrants to go uncounted. That, in turn, would cost several states seats in the U.S. House and billions of dollars in federal dollars that are determined by census results.

The three judges have rejected the administration’s arguments that asking about citizenship won’t harm accuracy and that the information is needed to help enforce provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The Census Bureau’s consistent view since the 1960 census has been that asking everyone about citizenship “would produce a less accurate population count,” five former agency directors who served in Democratic and Republic administrations wrote in a Supreme Court brief.

No population count is perfect, and census designers strive to create a questionnaire that is clear and easy to answer.

In older censuses, a government worker known as an enumerator would visit households and record information. In modern times, people fill in their own forms on paper or electronically.

But the potential for errant answers is ever-present, said Debbie Soren, the treasurer of the Illinois chapter of the Jewish Genealogical Society.

“Sometimes people didn’t always want to be forthcoming, including in their ages, for whatever reason. Sometimes there might be a language barrier. Or the person reporting the information might not be the best one to report it,” Soren said.

It seems likely that the census taker himself was responsible for the confusion in Robert Kagan’s citizenship status.

Dozens of families who lived near the Kagans have similar crossed-out entries in the citizenship column.

While Kagan’s father was born in the United States, her grandfather, Irving Kagan, was a Russian immigrant who had submitted his paperwork to become an American citizen, the 1930 census shows. By 1940, Irving Kagan was a citizen.

The old census forms, through 1940, can be searched on ancestry.com. The 1950 census will become public in 2022.

If past census reports leave a wide berth for error, they still hold a wealth of information, said Sharon DeBartolo Carmack of Salt Lake City, the author of “You Can Write Your Family History.”

Before 1960, the census often asked where people were born and, if abroad, whether they were U.S. citizens. “It’s wonderful to us as researchers, even though we don’t like the politics, don’t like the motivation,” Carmack said.

Kagan is among seven of the nine justices whose ancestors told census takers they were immigrants who had become American citizens. They came from England, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Russia, like so many others seeking a better life.

The fathers of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito were immigrants from Russia and Italy, respectively.

In the 1910 census, Patrick Kavanaugh, the great-grandfather of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, was living in New Haven, Connecticut, an iron worker who had become a citizen after leaving Ireland in the 1870s.

By 1900, the English-born great-grandmother of Chief Justice John Roberts and the German-born great-grandfather of Justice Stephen Breyer also were U.S. citizens.

Two of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s great-great grandfathers, Alex Tiehen and Hugh O’Grady, lived in Nebraska, according to the 1900 census. Tiehen came from Germany in 1845 and O’Grady emigrated from Ireland two years later. By the turn of the last century, both reported they were U.S. citizens.

There are two justices with very different paths to American citizenship. Justice Clarence Thomas is the descendant of slaves and Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican ancestors became American citizens under a 1917 federal law. Spain ceded the territory to the United States after the Spanish-American War.

The case is Department of Commerce v. New York, 18-966 .

Today’s Top Stories

AP

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 25: A giant flag of IR Iran on the pitch prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2...
ALI ABDUL-HASSAN and ABBY SEWELL Associated Press

US-Iran match reflects a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

The U.S. team’s must-win World Cup match against Iran will be closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
3 days ago
Irene Cara in 'Fame' (Photo courtesy of Mgm/Kobal, Shutterstock)...
MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ singer-actor Irene Cara dies at 63

singer-actress Irene Cara, who starred and sang the title cut from the 1980 hit movie “Fame” and then belted out the era-defining hit “Flashdance ... What a Feeling” from 1983's “Flashdance,” has died. She was 63.
5 days ago
The U.S. Coast Guard ship Bernard C. Webber, leaves the coast guard base, Monday, July 19, 2021, in...
Associated Press

‘Miracle’: Missing cruise ship passenger found OK in water

The U.S. Coast Guard says a passenger who went overboard from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico was rescued on Thanksgiving after likely being in the water for hours.
6 days ago
FILE - A Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the Capitol riot. (AP P...
The Associated Press

Montana man gets 3 years in prison for role in Capitol riot

A Montana man will spend three years in federal prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S Capitol.
7 days ago
Debbie, left, and Chet Barnett place flowers at a memorial outside of the Chesapeake, Va., Walmart ...
The Associated Press

Walmart shooter left ‘death note,’ bought gun day of killing

According to authorities in Virginia, the Walmart shooter bought his gun just hours prior to killing six employees.
7 days ago
Dry lakebed...
Kira Hoffelmeyer

Lawsuit looms over tiny fish in drought-stricken West

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists have notified U.S. wildlife officials that they will sue over delayed decisions related to protections for two rare fish species that are threatened by groundwater pumping in the drought-stricken West. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a formal notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service last week […]
9 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Accuracy at core of Supreme Court case over census question