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Politics & Government

Barrett Says Census Case Before U.S. Supreme Court Has Implications For Milwaukee

Morning light shines outside The United States Supreme Court building.

Milwaukee officials are keeping  a close eye on the census case being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Mayor Tom Barrett says if the Trump administration gets its way, it'll be tougher to get an accurate count when the census begins next year. 

The census case is about whether the Census Bureau can ask people if they are U.S. citizens. President Donald Trump says his administration wants more citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

But Mayor Barrett says it's another example of the president trying to divide the country. "Trying to make it harder for people to be counted. I think it's typical President Trump. Just, ‘What can we do to pit people against each other?’ So, unfortunately, I'm not surprised," he told reporters earlier this month.

Barrett says if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Trump, some households with non-citizens will be discouraged from filling out a census form. "And, I think that's his goal. His goal is to make it harder for people who normally are not used to working with government, to work with government. It's no accident. What he does is no accident,” he said.

If Milwaukee isn't able to count everyone who lives here, Barrett says, the city will lose out on some federal aid that's distributed based on population size.

But Milwaukee attorney Rick Esenberg says he thinks the Trump Administration has a chance to win the Supreme Court case. Esenberg is president and general counsel for Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, and says the census has asked about citizenship before.

"It's hard to argue the question is not legitimate. It was asked on the census from about 1820 to 1950. Then it was discontinued on the short form, but continued on the long form for another 50 years.  It's still asked in the American Community Survey," Esenberg says.

The American Community Survey is an ongoing Census Bureau effort that quizzes a much smaller number of people.

Critics of the citizenship question say past use isn't relevant, arguing that in the current political climate, the accuracy of the count would be harmed. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June, in time for the 2020 census forms to be printed.

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