The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the Trump administration can end census field operations early, in a blow to efforts to make sure minorities are properly counted in the crucial once-a-decade tally.
The decision was not a total loss for plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the administration’s decision to end the count early. They managed to get nearly two extra weeks of counting people as the case made its way through the courts.
However, the ruling increased the chances of the Trump administration retaining control of the process that decides how many congressional seats each state gets — and by extension how much voting power each state has.
The Supreme Court justices’ ruling came as the nation’s largest association of statisticians, and even the bureau’s own census takers and partners, have been raising questions about the quality of the data being gathered — numbers that are used to determine how much federal funding and how many congressional seats are allotted to states.
At issue was a request by the Trump administration that the Supreme Court suspend a lower court’s order extending the 2020 census through the end of October following delays caused by the pandemic. The Trump administration argued that the head count needed to end immediately to give the bureau time to meet a year-end deadline. Congress requires the bureau to turn in by Dec. 31 the figures used to decide the states’ congressional seats — a process known as apportionment.
By sticking to the deadline, the Trump administration would end up controlling the numbers used for the apportionment, no matter who wins next month’s presidential election.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Supreme Court’s decision “regrettable and disappointing,” and said the administration’s actions “threaten to politically and financially exclude many in America’s most vulnerable communities from our democracy.”
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the high court’s decision, saying “respondents will suffer substantial injury if the Bureau is permitted to sacrifice accuracy for expediency.”
The Supreme Court ruling came in response to a lawsuit by a coalition of local governments and civil rights groups, arguing that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the census ended early. They said the schedule was cut short to accommodate a July order from President Donald Trump that would exclude people in the country illegally from being counted in the numbers used for apportionment.
Opponents of the order said it followed the strategy of the late Republican redistricting guru, Thomas Hofeller, who had advocated using voting-age citizens instead of the total population when it came to drawing legislative seats since that would favor Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California sided with the plaintiffs and issued an injunction suspending a Sept. 30 deadline for finishing the 2020 census and a Dec. 31 deadline for submitting the apportionment numbers. That caused the deadlines to revert back to a previous Census Bureau plan that had field operations ending Oct. 31 and the reporting of apportionment figures at the end of April 2021.
When the Census Bureau, and the Commerce Department, which oversees the statistical agency, picked an Oct. 5 end date, Koh struck that down too, accusing officials of “lurching from one hasty, unexplained plan to the next … and undermining the credibility of the Census Bureau and the 2020 Census.” Continue reading