The Zero-fifths Proposal

Slavery is widely viewed as America’s original sin. Its documented manifestation is the Three-fifth Clause to the Constitution which came about via what is widely referred to as the Three-fifths Compromise. Today we have an operative of the Trump administration who is trying to do one “better” by counting some residents as zero-fifths of a person. Let’s explore.  

The Constitution mandates that a census be conducted every ten years counting all residents of the United States. It makes no provision for citizenship or eligibility to vote. People are people as far as the census is concerned. Based on the results seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned to the various states. In contemporary America the census is also the basis for apportioning much federal funding and is widely used as a tool by business. The more accurate the numbers the better the American people are served by both the public and private sectors.

When the Constitution was originally written southern states had slavery. That presented a dilemma. Southerners (and truth be told a fair number of Northerners) did not consider slaves to be equal human beings but they wanted to count them in order to gain more seats in the House. Slavery was too much of a hot button issue to resolve in 1787. Eventually a compromise was struck where slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for census compilation. Interestingly women, regardless of race, were not granted the right to vote until 1920, but white women were counted as a whole person as were white children. In any event, it was clearly the intention of the founders that the census number be the basis on which to distribute House seats among the states.

The 2020 census is imminent and it is the Commerce Department’s responsibility to conduct it. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in conspiracy with voter suppressionist Kris Kobach came up with an idea to suppress the count of undocumented people living in the United States with the goal of lessening their impact. This undercount would also lessen the amount of federal aid that regions with larger non-white populations have. Their idea is to simply add a citizenship question to the census. That will make non-citizens much less likely to respond to the census and therefore not be counted. The vast majority of undocumented residents of America are people of color; therefore if Ross can make them “disappear” in the census their impact is significantly lessened. This is in keeping with Trump’s goal of making America white again; if not in fact then at least in political impact.

Lawsuits have been filed against Ross and to date the courts have ruled against him. The Constitution is clear on the issue. The next stop is the Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see if they stand up for the Constitution or bow down to Trump. If counting a person as three-fifths of a person is a sin what is counting them as zero-fifths?

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