Sen. Rick Scott, the U.S. Constitution is clear. You are wrong. | Editorial

Some Republican members of Congress suggest House seats should be apportioned based on citizenship. That would be unconstitutional and unfair to Florida.
Sen. Rick Scott. Associated Press (2018)
Sen. Rick Scott. Associated Press (2018)
Published June 23
Updated June 26

Sen. Rick Scott and several other Florida Republican leaders are way off base in their mistaken belief that citizenship should determine how many seats states get in the U.S. House. The Constitution itself, in Article 1, Section 2, says they are wrong: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers.” Not just citizens, not just eligible voters, not just adults. But “their respective numbers.” In other words: Everyone.

That’s every baby, every prisoner, every voter, every person, documented or not. It’s literally in the Constitution — twice. The 14th Amendment, ratified right after the Civil War to ensure the citizenship rights of freed slaves, says it again: “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state.” The wording could not be clearer.

And yet in an interview with Fox News this month, Scott said that “how many additional congressmen and women that Florida gets, it ought to be based on citizenship.”

The Tampa Bay Times’ Steve Contorno reported several other Florida congressional Republicans agree, among them Reps. Greg Steube of Sarasota, Francis Rooney of Naples and Bill Posey of Rockledge. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, suggested apportioning congressional districts based on citizens and legal immigrants, including those with green cards. And Sen. Marco Rubio recently tweeted: “Districts apportioned based on # of people not here legally dilutes the political representation of citizens & legal residents.”

This is rich, coming from leaders of a party espousing a simple, originalist interpretation of the Constitution that declares the document means exactly what it says, no more and no less.

Their positions are not just unconstitutional. They are bad for Florida’s interests. If only citizens mattered, Florida, which has 2 million noncitizens, would already have one fewer seat in Congress, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of the 2017 American Community Survey. The Census is also used to allocate federal funds to states for everything from Medicare to highways.

Florida’s congressional delegation is expected to grow from 27 seats to 29 after the 2020 Census, but Republicans in their words and deeds are inexplicably trying hard to undercut Florida’s deserved clout. Republican moves such as including a citizenship question on the Census — on which the Supreme Court is soon to rule — would depress the count in Florida by scaring many Hispanics and people of color, including legal residents, away from participating. Florida could lose billions in federal dollars and perhaps one additional congressional seat. And that’s just asking about citizenship, not unconstitutionally trying to restrict congressional apportionment to citizens as these Republicans are advocating.

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, told Contorno a simple truth: “It’s in the Constitution in black and white — count the people — not count the citizens.” He is right. And if the Founding Fathers are on one side and Scott and other Florida Republicans are on the other, this is not a hard call.

Florida requires middle school students to pass a civics exam. Some state Republican leaders could benefit from a refresher course.

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