The Supreme Court said the 2020 Census may end now, concluding a contentious legal battle over the once-in-a-decade population count despite fears of an undercount that would fall hardest on minority groups.
After the 9th Circuit agreed with U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, who ruled that counting should continue, the Trump administration went to the Supreme Court.
The Census is a population count that is legally mandated by the US Constitution to take place every 10 years.
Delaying the deadline would allow the bureau to keep counting through Oct. 31 to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census, which was made more difficult because of the coronavirus.
“The harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the only justice to register dissent. “And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years.”
Sotomayor said that “even a fraction of a percent of the Nation’s 140 million households amounts to hundreds of thousands of people left uncounted. And significantly, the percentage of nonresponses is likely much higher among marginalized populations and in hard-to-count areas, such as rural and tribal lands.”
The historically undercounted groups overlap heavily with demographic categories that lean heavily Democratic, so the Trump undercount appears to rob the president’s political opponents of power.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit had agreed with a district court judge that the Commerce Department could not end the count until Oct. 31 and still meet a Dec. 31 deadline for delivering the count to the White House.
The census count has vast implications for American life, affecting the distribution of federal aid and the size of each state’s congressional delegation.
The decennial Census not only drives reapportionment and redistricting of federal and state legislative offices but also the distribution of public funds from myriad programs.
President Donald Trump has taken a decidedly partisan tone and sought to add a citizenship question, which experts said would discourage the count of both legal and undocumented immigrants.
The Supreme Court in 2019 rejected Trump’s citizenship question.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the 5-to-4 decision, saying the administration did not follow proper procedure for introducing the question, and that its rationale was “contrived.”
Trump also said he intended to break with past practices and present to Congress census data that excludes undocumented immigrants.
The Census Bureau said the 2020 count will end Thursday.
“This decision will result in irreversible damage to the 2020 Census,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “That said, the bureau has indicated that it takes several days to shut down the enumeration process. As we explore options we’ll continue to push undercounted populations in states such as Louisiana and Mississippi to participate while the process remains active.”
Julie Menin, director of NYC Census 2020, said the census has “been stolen by the Trump administration, which has interfered at every step of the way, and now, the census has been cut short during a global pandemic in which New York City was the epicenter.”
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