A federal court on Thursday blocked President Donald Trump’s order that would exclude undocumented immigrants from this year’s census, ruling that limiting the scope of the count was unconstitutional and beyond the president’s authority. The decision came from a three-judge panel in Federal District Court in Manhattan; two of the judges were George W. Bush appointees and the third was named to the bench by President Barack Obama. “The merits of the parties’ dispute are not particularly close or complicated,” the judges wrote in granting summary judgment, meaning the evidence is clear enough that the matter would not require a trial.
The census, since its first iteration 200-plus years ago, has counted the total number of persons residing in each state, with the obvious and glaring exception of slaves and Native Americans until the 20th century. The judges found that Trump’s order imposing a distinction between types of residents “violates the statute governing reapportionment because, so long as they reside in the United States, illegal aliens qualify as ‘persons’ in a ‘state’ as Congress used those words.”
The Trump administration’s efforts to come up with two numbers—one as an overall number of occupants, and another as a count of American citizens specifically—is a pretty bald attempt to skew the reapportionment of congressional districts for the next decade, not to mention the trillions of dollars in federal funding that come with it. A state like Alabama, for instance, is expected to lose a congressional seat when the seats are reapportioned next year to better reflect where Americans actually live. “Subtracting the immigrant population from census totals would have excluded millions of people from the population counts used for reapportionment, reducing the number of House seats allotted to states with large immigrant populations like California and Texas,” the New York Times notes. “Excluding noncitizens from reapportionment totals has long been a cause among many Republicans, who traditionally have been seen as the political winners under such a change.”
The issue is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court, as the Trump administration appears to be seeking other avenues through which to fiddle with the census figures. Court proceedings have already begun over the White House’s sudden reversal on its decision to give additional time to conduct the census due to disruption from the pandemic. After initially granting an extension until April 2021, the Trump administration is now requiring that the numbers be submitted by the end of the year, the thinking being that the administration wants to have control over how the numbers are crunched in case Trump loses in November and is out of office by January 2021.