The Census

Oxford Handbook of American Election Law (forthcoming)

Loyola Law School, Los Angeles Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2023-31

29 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2024

See all articles by Justin Levitt

Justin Levitt

Loyola Law School Los Angeles

Date Written: September 16, 2023


The decennial Census is essential to American governance. It appears in the sixth sentence of the U.S. Constitution, the first enumerated affirmative obligation of the new federal government. The Census determines representation in government and the disbursement of trillions of dollars in funding; it sets the informational architecture for countless public and private decisions. The Census helps us understand who we are, and that understanding drives what we choose to do together, and how we do it.

This chapter discusses the law of the Census, shining a light on some of the policy considerations and design choices that frame our national portrait, with striking consequences for our democracy. It discusses the extraordinary challenges that the Census has faced most recently, but also grounds current Census practice in historical context. The chapter reviews important controversies about how to conduct the count, where to count people, what information to ask for, and undervalued choices about how to report that data — and the ways in which each of these decisions may alter our conception of the American public and the representation we may receive.

Keywords: Census, democracy, statistical infrastructure, enumeration, representation, race, sex, ethnicity, pandemic, disinformation, citizenship, undercount, imputation, incarcerated persons, confidentiality, data privacy, differential privacy

Suggested Citation

Levitt, Justin, The Census (September 16, 2023). Oxford Handbook of American Election Law (forthcoming), Loyola Law School, Los Angeles Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2023-31, Available at SSRN:

Justin Levitt (Contact Author)

Loyola Law School Los Angeles ( email )

919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States
213-736-7417 (Phone)
213-380-3769 (Fax)


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