Enumeration Clause

The enumeration clause exists for knowing how many members of Congress (the members of the United States House of Representatives) each state may elect, based on the population of that state.

Where Is the Enumeration Clause and What Does It Mean?

The Enumeration Clause in the U.S. Constitution is also known as the Census Clause (found in Article 1, sections 1 & 2 of the Constitution) and reads as follows, “Representatives…shall be apportioned among several states…according to their respective numbers…the actual enumeration shall be made within three years and the first meeting of the Congress of the United States of America, and within every subsequent term of ten years in such manner as they shall by law direct.” Okay, so what does actually mean? Well, it is basically stating that the United States conducts a census every 10 years, and that the first one needed to be conducted within three years of the creation of the aforementioned article.

As with much of the language in the United States Constitution, there are some things that are left open to interpretation. For example:

  • The language, “…as they shall by law direct” raises the question as to whether or the government needs to actually each and every individual, or can an estimate be used? There was apparently no specific discussion around this issue at the First Continental Congress.
  • Is this only applicable to the states that comprise the United States of America, or does this allow apply to U.S. territories? The U.S. government has chosen to apply the census to U.S. territories, as well, such as Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, even though their congressmen and congresswomen are not permitted to cast votes in the House of Representatives.

When initially conceived, an African American was only counted as 3/5 of a person, insofar as the census was concerned. Only free people (read: white) were to be counted as whole persons. That was changed with the creation of Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Actual Counting vs. Estimating

There are those who feel pretty strongly on both sides of the argument regarding whether each and every person needs to be counted, or if estimations are permissible. Some of the arguments include:

  • Some people believe that the phrase “actual enumeration” allows for government officials to use their best judgment in coming up with the best estimation.
  • Some believe that “actual enumeration” only applies to the first census that was conducted three years after the meeting of the First Continental Congress.
  • For people who believe that each and every individual is meant to be counted, and therefore estimations should not be allowable, the phrasing of “actual enumeration” takes on the literal meaning of “actual.”
  • As one of the founding issues that resulted in the United States of America declaring independence from England was that of taxation without representation (meaning that the United States did not have a voice in the British Parliament, yet the colonies were required to pay taxes to the crown), there are those to feel that history makes it quite clear that actual enumeration means that estimations should not be used, but rather an exact count of all U.S. residents.

It was the Census Act of 1790, which was the year that the first census was conducted, that established an actual count be conducted. In fact, the census takers were required to take an oath, stating that a perfect, actual count would be made of all individuals.

Additional Information

The United States Constitution is an organic document that is always open to interpretation and change (via amendments), and it is interesting to consider some of the language that the framers chose to use. For example, regarding the census, “individuals” is used, not “residents” or “citizens.” This implies that each and every person living in the United States should be counted, regardless of their immigration or citizenship status. However, there are those that take issue with this, as the census is meant to determine the number of members in the House of Representatives, and feel that by not limiting the census to only citizens or legal residents, it provides an, “unfair advantage” to those elected officials who represent states with large immigrant or DACA/Dreamer populations.

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