Jill Lepore at The New Yorker: “People have been counting people for thousands of years. Count everyone, beginning with babies who have teeth, decreed census-takers in China in the first millennium B.C.E., under the Zhou dynasty. “Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls,” God commands Moses in the Book of Numbers, describing a census, taken around 1500 B.C.E., that counted only men “twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel”—that is, potential conscripts.
Ancient rulers took censuses to measure and gather their strength: to muster armies and levy taxes. Who got counted depended on the purpose of the census. In the United States, which counts “the whole number of persons in each state,” the chief purpose of the census is to apportion representation in Congress. In 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross sought to add a question to the 2020 U.S. census that would have read, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Ross is a banker who specialized in bankruptcy before joining the Trump Administration; earlier, he had handled cases involving the insolvency of Donald Trump’s casinos. The Census Bureau objected to the question Ross proposed. Eighteen states, the District of Columbia, fifteen cities and counties, the United Conference of Mayors, and a coalition of non-governmental organizations filed a lawsuit, alleging that the question violated the Constitution.
Last year, United States District Court Judge Jesse Furman, in an opinion for the Southern District, found Ross’s attempt to add the citizenship question to be not only unlawful, and quite possibly unconstitutional, but also, given the way Ross went about trying to get it added to the census, an abuse of power. Furman wrote, “To conclude otherwise and let Secretary Ross’s decision stand would undermine the proposition—central to the rule of law—that ours is a ‘government of laws, and not of men.’ ” There is, therefore, no citizenship question on the 2020 census.
All this, though, may be by the bye, because the census, like most other institutions of democratic government, is under threat. Google and Facebook, after all, know a lot more about you, and about the population of the United States, or any other state, than does the U.S. Census Bureau or any national census agency. This year may be the last time that a census is taken door by door, form by form, or even click by click….
In the ancient world, rulers counted and collected information about people in order to make use of them, to extract their labor or their property. Facebook works the same way. “It was the great achievement of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century census-takers to break that nexus and persuade people—the public on one side and their colleagues in government on the other—that states could collect data on their citizens without using it against them,” Whitby writes. It is among the tragedies of the past century that this trust has been betrayed. But it will be the error of the next if people agree to be counted by unregulated corporations, rather than by democratic governments….(More)”.