Supreme Court Rules Challenge to Trump Census Plan is Premature

December 18, 2020 by Dan McCue
The U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a challenge to President Donald Trump’s plan to exclude people living in the country illegally from the population count as premature.

Trump’s insistence that illegal immigrants be excluded from the count could profoundly impact the number of seats individual states get in the House of Representatives in the next decade.

However, the unsigned opinion released by the court Friday morning is not a final ruling on the merits of the case, and at this point, it is unclear whether Trump will receive the final numbers from the Census Bureau before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

“At present this case is riddled with contingencies and speculation that impede judicial review,” the opinion states.

“Consistent with our determination that standing has not been shown and that the case is not ripe, we express no view on the merits of the constitutional and related statutory claims presented. We hold only that they are not suitable for adjudication at this time,” it continues.

The three liberal justices on the court dissented from the majority opinion, saying they believe the president’s effort to exclude people in the country from the population for divvying up House seats is unlawful.

“The plain meaning of the governing statutes, decades of historical practice, and uniform interpretations from all three branches of Government demonstrate that aliens without lawful status cannot be excluded from the decennial census solely on account of that status,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, joining Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in dissent.

“The Government’s effort to remove them from the apportionment base is unlawful, and I believe this Court should say so. The Court disagrees,” he continued. “It argues that it is now uncertain just how fully the secretary will implement the presidential memorandum. In my view, that uncertainty does not warrant our waiting to decide the merits of the plaintiffs’ claim.”

No president has ever tried to remove millions of noncitizens from the once-a-decade head count of the U.S. population that determines how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives, as well as the allocation of federal funding.

But the White House maintains the president does have the authority to exclude at least some people living in the country illegally, including perhaps people who are in immigration detention or those who have been ordered to leave the country. 

Trump had demanded that the Census Bureau turn its apportionment numbers over to him by December 21. But the agency recently acknowledged that the discovery of data irregularities has put that deadline in jeopardy. 

Among those responding almost immediately to the ruling was Connecticut Attorney General William Tong who said, “The Constitution requires the government to include all residents in the census. Immigrants are people, and they must be included. 

“The Court today didn’t disagree. It just held that it’s too early to strike down the president’s order — in part because nobody knows whether the outgoing Trump Administration is even capable of implementing its own discriminatory plan,” Tong said. “I am committed to working with the new administration wherever possible, and through the courts wherever necessary, to ensure that every person in this country is counted in the 2020 census.” 

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