WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's attempt to exclude people living in the country illegally from the population count used to divvy up congressional seats is headed for a post-Thanksgiving Supreme Court showdown.
The administration's top lawyers are hoping the justices on a court that includes three Trump appointees will embrace the idea, rejected repeatedly by lower courts. It's the latest, and likely the last, Trump administration hard-line approach to immigration issues to reach the high court. Arguments will take place on Monday by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Even as the justices weigh a bid to remove, for the first time, millions of noncitizens from the population count that determines how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives as well as the allocation of some federal funding, experts say other issues loom large for the 2020 census as it heads into unchartered territory over deadlines, data quality and politics.
A host of novel questions outside of the court's eventual decision could determine the final product of the nation’s once-a-decade head count, including whether the incoming Biden administration would do anything to try to reverse decisions made under Trump.
Among other questions: Will the Census Bureau be able to meet a year-end deadline for turning in the numbers used for apportionment, the process of dividing up congressional seats among the states? Will the quality of the census data be hurt by a shortened schedule, a pandemic and natural disasters? Could a Democratic-controlled House reject the numbers from the Republican administration if House leaders believe they are flawed? Will a lame-duck Senate pass legislation that could extend deadlines for turning in census numbers?
“There are so many moving parts, it makes your head spin,” said Margo Anderson, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
How the Supreme Court will rule is the first unknown.
Federal courts in California, Maryland and New York have ruled that Trump's plan violates federal law or the Constitution, which provides that "representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State.” A fourth court, in Washington, D.C., held this past week that a similar challenge to the administration plan was premature, an argument that also has been made to the high court.