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From Reconstruction To WWII, How The U.S. Census Has Been Used For Both Good And Bad

The Supreme Court will hear opening arguments next Tuesday about whether the Trump administration can bring back a question about citizenship to the 2020 U.S. Census.

Critics say asking the question “Are you a citizen?” will lower response rates among Latino and immigrant households, a potential problem since the census determines how congressional seats are allocated and where federal funds flow. But the Trump administration has claimed it needs the data to enforce the Voting Rights Act and that past censuses have asked about citizenship before.

Throughout U.S. history, the census has been used for both good and bad. During Reconstruction, it helped enfranchise voters, but during World War II, it helped facilitate the internment of Japanese Americans.

Historians  Nathan Connolly ( @ndbconnolly) and  Ed Ayers ( @edward_l_ayers), co-hosts of the podcast “ BackStory,” produced at  Virginia Humanities, look at how the census has been used over time with  Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The census taker knocked and was received by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who went on record as answering all the questions on the large sheet on April 2, 1940. (AP Photo)
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The census taker knocked and was received by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who went on record as answering all the questions on the large sheet on April 2, 1940. (AP Photo)