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Supreme Court puts off ruling on Trump census case to exclude undocumented immigrants

The administration had asked the justices to fast-track a decision before it must report the numbers to Congress.
Demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Courthouse in Washington
Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2019.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — On the last day for its rulings in 2020, the Supreme Court on Monday took no action on President Donald Trump's plan to exclude undocumented migrants from the census figures used to calculate each state's representation in Congress.

The Trump administration had urged the court to take the case on a fast track and issue a decision before the president is required to submit the census report to Congress in early January. But by the time the case was argued Nov. 20, the Census Bureau conceded that it has no idea yet know how many people would be excluded or when it will have the answer.

It appeared Monday that the justices declined to act for that reason.

The next scheduled day for the court to issue decisions is in early January.

The census, required by the Constitution and conducted every 10 years, is used to determine how many members of Congress each state gets in the House of Representatives. The data is also used to calculate local governments' share of $1.5 trillion in funds under many federal programs.

In July, Trump issued a memo that said people who are undocumented should not be included in the final count. Under his plan, the Census Bureau would report two sets of figures to the White House — one including everyone counted and another allowing him to leave out undocumented immigrants. The president could then report the smaller number to Congress for use in reapportionment.

His memo said states with policies "that encourage illegal aliens to enter this country and that hobble federal efforts to enforce the immigration laws passed by the Congress should not be rewarded with greater representation in the House of Representatives."

Lawyers for the states opposing the plan sued to block it, saying it would shift money and political power away from states with large immigrant populations and would violate the Constitution and federal law.

California, Florida and Texas would each lose one seat in the House, and Alabama, Minnesota and Ohio would each retain a seat they would otherwise lose due to population shift, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. Other predictions show Arizona losing a seat, too, and Montana gaining one. The states would lose an equal number of Electoral College votes, which are based on the size of their House delegations.

The Department of Justice argued that federal law gives the president authority to direct how the census is conducted and that the term in the Constitution, which says the census must count "the whole number of persons in each state," has been generally understood to mean usual residents.