- The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for the Trump administration to end field operations for the 2020 census, temporarily halting a lower court decision that had extended the count.
- The case arose after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross backtracked on a plan announced in April to extend the count until Oct. 31 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- "The harms caused by rushing this year's census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for the Trump administration to end field operations for the 2020 census, temporarily halting a lower court decision that had extended the count.
The decision came in an unsigned order, as is typical for emergency cases. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The order will allow the Trump administration to end the decennial count while the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the matter. The administration has argued that it has already received enough responses to have an accurate count of the population.
The case arose after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross backtracked on a plan announced in April to extend the count until Oct. 31 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In August, Ross said that count would conclude at the end of September in order to meet a Dec. 31 statutory deadline for reporting the census results to the president.
A consortium of advocacy groups, cities, counties and Native American tribes sued to keep the extended deadline.
In court papers, the groups argued that their communities would "almost certainly be inaccurately represented and underrepresented in the final census count if the administration succeeds in truncating census data-collection and data-processing."
A federal district court in California ordered the Trump administration not to halt the count ahead of Oct. 31 in a September order that the 9th Circuit temporarily upheld earlier this month while it continues to consider the case.
In dissent, Sotomayor wrote that the administration was downplaying the risk of ending the census early by emphasizing that more than 99% of households in 49 states were accounted for already.
"But even a fraction of a percent of the Nation's 140 million households amounts to hundreds of thousands of people left uncounted," Sotomayor wrote. "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 harms caused by rushing this year's census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years," Sotomayor added.
In a separate case related to the census, the Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to allow it to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count used to apportion representation in the House of Representatives.
If the Census Bureau hits the Dec. 31 deadline, the Trump administration will retain control of the apportionment even if Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the election on Nov. 3.
A lower court has blocked the Trump administration's plans to exclude undocumented immigrants and the Supreme Court has not said whether it will review the matter. The justices are scheduled to discuss the case at their private conference on Friday.
Melissa Arbus Sherry, a partner at the law firm Latham & Watkins, which argued on behalf of the challengers in the case, said in a statement that the Supreme Court's order "does not erase the tremendous progress that has been made as a result of the district court's rulings."
"We've come a long way since the district court enjoined defendants from prematurely winding down census field operations on September 11," she said. "As a result, millions more Americans have been counted — a fact used by Defendants themselves as an argument for staying the preliminary injunction."
In a statement released on Wednesday morning, Ross said the Supreme Court's move "allows the 2020 Census data collection to come to an orderly end and for data processing to begin, taking an important step toward delivery of a complete and accurate count."
"Comparable to 2000 and 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau has enumerated well over 99.9 percent of all housing units in the entire Nation. Unlike much of the press reporting about this case, the Supreme Court understood these facts, with only a single Justice writing in dissent," Ross said.