With lower courts offering different perspectives, the Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in another three days.
A federal court in Washington, D.C., has tossed out a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s directive to exclude undocumented immigrants from a critical set of census measures.
National Public Radio reports that the Wednesday decision was issued by a three-judge panel, comprised mostly of Trump-appointed judges. It comes mere days before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a similar, New York-based lawsuit.
Trump, adds NPR, is hoping to exclude illegal immigrants from the 2020 census counts which will be used to determine each state’s share of seats in the House of Representatives, as well as the number of electors it receives in the Electoral College.
While the Supreme Court’s decision will make far more difference than any issued by a federal court, NPR suggests that the D.C.-based lawsuit may offer t
he justices a similar opportunity to find the New York suit “not ripe for review.”
Leah Litman, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, told National Public Radio she believes the Supreme Court will not significantly diverge in its own decision.
“I think the court will also say the dispute isn’t ripe,” Litman said, noting that “they could have summarily affirmed the decision” by the New York court instead of deciding to review it.
That’s because the New York court—unlike its counterpart in Washington, D.C.—was among the first to say that President Trump’s census appointment instructions constitute a violation of federal laws requiring that the commander-in-chief provide Congress with “a statement showing the whole number of persons in each State.”
Other courts across the country have offered similar judgments, opining that the “whole number of persons in each State” cannot, by definition, exclude undocumented immigrants.
In another, earlier article, NPR uncovered evidence that the Trump administration is actively trying to “alter” the census count through the courts.
As it stands, the Department of Commerce—which oversees the U.S. Census Bureau–must meet a December 31st deadline to provide President Trump with the first set of numbers.
However, the contours of the coronavirus pandemic have made it difficult to ascertain whether the Bureau will be able to meet that deadline. Furthermore, it appears that Census workers are still unsure whether and how to count undocumented immigrants when reporting their results.
Rushing the census could prove disastrous. While each initial count typically arrives with “routine” errors, NPR observes that the Census Bureau has already begun cutting corners—and is, by extension, risking more serious mistakes.
Vanita Gupta, a former Obama official and the CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that it is important that the Census Bureau can finish its current count on time and without interference.
Nevertheless, Gupta did say it would be highly problematic if the Bureau cannot conclude its work before the incoming Biden administration arrives in the White House.
“I think waiting until a new administration and new Congress to act would be too late for the census,” Gupta said. “A new administration and a new Congress really would be in uncharted territory that would take time to navigate, conceivably creating a constitutional crisis that could be avoided if Congress gives the Census Bureau the time it needs and the time it asked for.”
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