My Letter to Senators Urging them to Vote No on SA 2644, the Vitter-Bennett Amendment on the Census

Dear Senator,

If the Vitter-Bennett Amendment SA 2644 on HR 2847 regarding the Census comes to a vote this week, I urge you to vote no.

While this Amendment may appear innocent, its intent and practical effect on the process are not. If carried out, it could dramatically disrupt an orderly Census count next year, throw the Census process into a legal and political morass that could also threaten a clean and accurate count, and is part of a broader strategy by Senator Bennett to challenge the upcoming reapportionment process which at this point appears remarkably, and offensively unconstitutional. There are simply too many questions about this Amendment for you to vote yes on it this week. 

I will let others address the practicality of adding a new question to the Census at this very, very late stage. But I do want to address Senator Bennett's argument about why getting an accurate count of the non-citizens in the U.S. today is so important - to deny the ability for the undocumented immigrants in each state to count towards the upcoming reapportionment process. In his own statements on the Senate floor, and in his press release, he has made it clear that this reason is behind his Amendment - to start a racially charged effort to disrupt the once every ten year reapportionment process in 2011 and 2012.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, when Americans fought each other over slavery, the nation passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in order to make it clear that in reapportionment all people must be counted, and counted equally, correcting the infamous three-fifths of a person clause of the Constitution. The new language read:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State.

Senator Bennett's Amendment, while it does not address reapportionment directly, is part of a broader plan to directly challenge the 14th amendment - and thus the legal basis of the entire modern civil rights movement. This is a strategy that we believe is unconstitutional and will certainly be - given the historic import of this Amendment - offensive to some.

The issues being raised by Senators Bennett and Vitter are neither simple nor easy. If enacted their Amendment would almost certainly disrupt an orderly census count next year, and start a highly charged conversation about race, the Civil War and the 14th Amendment in the very first year of our first African-American President. I urge you to vote no on this Amendment, and request that issues it raises be given the level of consideration and scrutiny they deserve. This issue is too important to be left to a hastily tossed together and ill-considered amendment. Let Senator Bennett use his bill to start a more informed debate, giving all sides time to prepare.


Simon Rosenberg

PS: Follow this link to read NDN's recent background report on this issue.