The United States Supreme Court has decided to stop the once-a-decade headcount of every US resident from continuing through the end of October, in a blow to civil rights groups concerned about an undercount particularly of racial minorities.
The justices put on hold a lower court ruling that had ordered that the decennial population count be continued until October 31. The US Census Bureau on August 3 announced that it would wind down data collection by September 30, a month earlier than originally scheduled.
President Donald Trump’s administration had asked the nation’s high court to suspend the district court’s order permitting the 2020 census to continue through the end of the month.
The Trump administration argued that the headcount needed to end immediately so that the Census Bureau had enough time to crunch the numbers before a congressionally mandated year-end deadline for turning in figures used for deciding how many congressional seats each state gets.
A coalition of local governments and civil rights groups had sued the Trump administration, arguing that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the count ended early.
They said the census schedule was cut short to accommodate a July order from Trump that would exclude people in the country illegally from the numbers used to decide how many congressional seats each state gets.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented in the Supreme Court ruling.
“Moreover, meeting the deadline at the expense of the accuracy of the census is not a cost worth paying, especially when the Government has failed to show why it could not bear the lesser cost of expending more resources to meet the deadline or continuing its prior efforts to seek an extension from Congress,” Sotomayor said.
The Supreme Court’s order on Tuesday was a loss for municipalities including Los Angeles, the counties that include Houston and Seattle and civil rights groups including the National Urban League that sued to get the later deadline reinstated.
The plaintiffs argued that the “rushed” schedule would lead to inaccurate census results and “a massive undercount of the country’s communities of colour”.
They said in an October 10 filing that a ruling for the Trump administration would allow it “to stop the 2020 Census count, shut down field operations, fire hundreds of thousands of employees, and start processing data the very next day”.
The census count’s accuracy is critical, as it determines how the US House of Representatives and state legislatures draw voting districts during the next round of redistricting and guides the federal government in allocating $1.5 trillion a year in aid.
With plans for the count hampered by the pandemic, the Census Bureau in April had proposed extending the deadline for finishing the count from the end of July to the end of October and pushing the apportionment deadline from December 31 to next April.