Trump Census Exclusions Headed to Supreme Court

A briefcase of a census taker is seen as she knocks on a door in Winter Park, Fla., in August. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court agreed Friday to review the Trump administration’s effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the decennial census count used to divvy up seats in Congress.  

The unsigned order sets oral argument in the case for Nov. 30, potentially setting up a decision by January, when the White House has to report the census numbers to Congress.  

In September, three New York federal judges ruled that the president’s memorandum excluding undocumented immigrants was “an unlawful exercise of the authority granted to the president.”

The Southern District of New York panel’s 86-page opinion enjoined the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau from reporting any information about the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. Providing a separate set of statistics for undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens violates the statutory scheme of the census, the judges wrote.

Federal law allows rulings by a three-judge panel of a district court in cases involving the apportionment of congressional districts, which can skip a review by a circuit court and instantly be appealed to the Supreme Court. 

President Donald Trump’s July memorandum at the center of the case was similar to the administration’s previous attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, which was defeated unanimously by the high court last year.  

The White House reasoned that excluding undocumented immigrants from the count was “more consonant with the principles of representative democracy.”

“Affording congressional representation, and therefore formal political influence, to states on account of the presence within their borders of aliens who have not followed the steps to secure a lawful immigration status under our laws undermines those principles,” the memo states.

New York Attorney General Letitia James led nearly 20 states, 10 cities and five counties in a legal challenge shortly after the memo was introduced. In a 49-page complaint, the challengers noted that since the U.S. recognized “the whole personhood” of former slaves for over 150 years, all people within its borders must be counted for apportionment purposes.

Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project who will argue the case before the high court, said in a statement Friday that President Trump has repeatedly tried and failed to “weaponize the census for his attacks on immigrant communities.”

 “The Supreme Court rejected his attempt last year and should do so again,” Ho said. “The legal mandate is clear — every single person counts in the census and every single person is represented in Congress.”

The high court’s decision to take up the case is three days removed from its order halting this year’s census count weeks before scheduled. While a federal judge in California said the count could continue until Halloween – a decision affirmed by the Ninth Circuit – the Supreme Court denied extending the tally.

Liberal Justice Sonya Sotomayor dissented.  

“The harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable,” she wrote. “And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years.”

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