Supreme Court says Trump administration can end the Census count now, suspends lower court's decision
Local governments and civil rights groups sued the Trump administration saying minorities and certain communities could miss out if the counting ended earlier
The Donald Trump administration found a favor in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, October 13, as the apex court halted the Census from continuing till the end of October. The administration had asked the apex court to suspend a district court’s order permitting the 2020 census. According to it, the headcount needed to end with an immediate effect so that the US Census Board had sufficient time to process the numbers before the year-end deadline arrived for turning in figures determining the number of seats in the Congress each state gets. The latest move by the top court could add to the ongoing controversy over Trump filling up the body with conservative minds ahead of the presidential election.
According to a report in the Associated Press, the Supreme Court’s order was issued unsigned but with a dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It was not known how the rest of the court was divided on the issue. A coalition of local governments and groups advocating civil rights sued the Trump administration saying minorities and other communities that are hard to count would miss out if the counting concluded earlier than scheduled. It also said the Census schedule was made short to fit in a July order from the president that would leave out people illegally from the numbers used to decide each state’s congressional seats.
Justice Sotomayor against meeting deadline at expense of accuracy
Sotomayor, the top court’s only Hispanic justice, expressed her dissent saying: “Meeting the deadline at the expense of the accuracy of the census is not a cost worth paying, especially when the Government has failed to show why it could not bear the lesser cost of expending more resources to meet the deadline or continuing its prior efforts to seek an extension from Congress.” The AP report added.
District Judge Lucy Koh backed plaintiffs in September
In September, US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, backed the plaintiffs and issued an injunction suspending the September 30 deadline for finishing this year’s Census and also the December 31 deadline for submission of numbers to determine the state’s congressional seats — a process called apportionment. The court’s decision made the deadlines revert to a previous Census Bureau plan that had field operations concluding on October 31 and the conclusion of apportionment figures at the end of April next year, the report added.
When the bureau and the commerce department, which monitors the statistical agency, picked an October 5 end date, Koh struck that down too and accused officials of “lurching from one hasty, unexplained plan to the next...and undermining the credibility of the Census Bureau and the 2020 Census”. An appellate court panel also upheld Koh’s order allowing the Census to continue through October but struck down the part that suspended the other deadline — December 31 — for turning in the apportionment numbers. The panel comprising three appellate judges said just because the year-deadline was impossible to observe, it didn’t mean the court should require the Census Bureau to miss it.
With the counting plans getting hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the bureau in April proposed extending the deadline for finishing the count from July-end to October-end and pushing the apportionment deadline from December 31 to next April. The proposal was passed in the Democratic-controlled House but the Republican-dominated Senate did not entertain the request.
In Late July and early August, bureau officials reduced the count schedule by a month so that it would conclude at the end of September. The Republicans’ inaction coincided with an order from Trump in July asking the Census Bureau to have the apportionment count exclude people who are illegally staying in the country. The order was later called unlawful by a panel of three district judges in New York but the Trump administration appealed the case in the Supreme Court.
Local officials nationwide worry about the impact that the undercount would have on their communities. Rio Arriba is one of those regions in the US that are challenging to count and could lose out. Some of the regions that were hardest to count in the last Census might be even harder to include in this year’s survey as the country battles the pandemic, according to a Reuters analysis of Census data. Such regions include areas in Texas, Mississippi and New Mexico.