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Federal judges rule Trump can't exclude people in U.S. illegally from congressional redistricting

The president's executive order that excludes people who are in the country illegally from being accounted for in redistricting violates the law, a three-judge panel ruled.
Demonstrators rally at the U.S. Supreme Court
Demonstrators rally at the Supreme Court on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

A panel of federal judges ruled Thursday that President Donald Trump's order to exclude people who are in the country illegally when redrawing congressional districts violates the law.

The "President must act in accordance with, and within the boundaries of, the authority that Congress has granted," and "we conclude the President did not do so here," the three-judge panel in New York wrote. The judges signed an injunction blocking the order from being implemented.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led a coalition of 21 states and 15 cities and counties in challenging the president's July order, hailed the 86-page ruling.

"President Trump's repeated attempts to hinder, impair, and prejudice an accurate census and the subsequent apportionment have failed once again," James said in a statement.

"We urge everyone to fill out the census, if they have not already, and we will continue to take every legal action available to ensure all communities are counted," she added.

The census results are used to determine the number of seats in the House that each state is allocated, and they affect the dispersal of billions of federal dollars.

Trump said in the July memo that it would be the "policy of the United States to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status under the Immigration and Nationality Act."

It directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, to provide the president with data about the number of people who are undocumented so that when census officials present the president with the final count, he can exclude them from the population totals used to determine how many House seats each state will have.

James' lawsuit argued that the directive was "unlawful." The suit, filed in New York federal court, charged that it showed "blatant disregard of an unambiguous constitutional command" — the 14th Amendment's directive that "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State."

The panel of judges found that by "directing the Secretary to provide two sets of numbers, one derived from the decennial census and one not, and announcing that it is the policy of the United States to use the latter in connection with apportionment, the Presidential Memorandum deviates from, and thus violates, the statutory scheme."

They judges also found that it "violates the statute governing apportionment because, so long as they reside in the United States, illegal aliens qualify as 'persons in' a 'State' as Congress used those words."

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the ruling "a resounding victory for justice, equality and our American Democracy."

"The President's unlawful order was a brazen violation of the rule of law, purpose-built to cause traditionally undercounted communities to be even further underrepresented and left behind. We are pleased that the court unanimously declared that the President's directive violated the law and blocked this latest Trump attack on our immigrant communities," she said.

The decision came just days after a federal judge in Florida ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to at least temporarily stop following a plan under which it would have begun winding down operations to finish the 2020 census at the end of September. The temporary restraining order was requested by a coalition of cities, counties and civil rights groups who are seeking to force the Census Bureau to restore its previous plan for finishing the census at the end of October.

The administration tried last year to add a citizenship question for the first time in 60 years, but the Supreme Court blocked the Commerce Department. Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined the four-member liberal wing of the court, said the administration's rationale for adding the question was "contrived."