Supreme Court Allows Trump Administration to End Census Count Early

Written By: Hannah Yale

The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday, Oct. 13 to allow the Trump Administration to end the 2020 Census count early, blocking a lower court decision that would have required the Census to continue collecting field information until the end of October. The Census Bureau said they wanted to stop the count on Oct. 5 to start processing data in order to meet a Dec. 31 deadline, although the Bureau had originally chosen Oct. 31 as its stopping point for data collection. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Census Bureau to keep going with its count until Oct. 31, concluding that dedicating more time to accumulate information would increase the Census’ accuracy and allow hard-to-reach communities the opportunity to be counted in the numbers that will be used to reallocate congressional seats and Electoral College votes for the next 10 years. Trump’s Commerce Department intervened and unofficially brought the case before the Supreme Court. 

In a brief unsigned order, the Court blocked the Ninth Circuit’s decision and granted the Trump Administration permission to halt the Census count immediately. After the decision was released, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it would continue accepting responses online at My2020Census.gov and via phone through Oct. 15. The same date was set as the postmark deadline for sending in paper responses. According to the Census Bureau, over 99.9% of housing units had been accounted for by Tuesday, Oct. 13, but some civil rights advocacy groups like the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have concerns that the Court’s decision could negatively impact racial and ethnic minorities.

The verdict was supported by seven of the Court’s eight Justices. Justice Sonya Sotomayor officially registered a dissent, saying: “The harms caused by rushing this year’s census counts are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next ten years.” The respondents referred to in Sotomayor’s dissent are a collection of advocacy groups, cities, counties, and Native tribes. If the Census does not get an accurate count of people living in the U.S., low-income communities, ethnic minorities and indigenous people will feel the effects most severely.

On a separate track, the Trump Administration has asked the Supreme Court to allow the Census Bureau to report two different census figures to the President— one calculated the usual way and one excluding people who are undocumented immigrants. The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to make a decision on the issue by the end of 2020, but the Court has not yet announced when it will hear the case. Citizens and non-citizens alike, regardless of immigration status, have always been included in the Census since 1790.

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