On a day when senators were questioning a nominee to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court, the high court issued a ruling making voter suppression of non-whites more likely for the next decade.
The court on Tuesday decided to allow the Trump administration to shut down the count in the 2020 census, a move that has the clear implication of undercounting and, thus, under-representing minority and marginalized populations until after the next census in 2030.
The legal path of this issue is complicated, although the societal implications are not. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross had filed an emergency petition with the high court for a stay of a federal appeals court ruling that said the census count should continue because a significant number of minorities and others in hard-to-count communities if the count ended early. The count, which largely is conducted by door-to-door in-person visits by census takers, had been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Originally the Trump administration said the count would continue through Oct. 31 and the results could be submitted in April 2021.
But in August Donald Trump changed his mind and issued an order halting the field work on Sept. 30, part of his move to exclude undocumented immigrants from that the population totals it will send to Congress for reapportioning seats in the House. Trump appears to want to be in the position of providing those census numbers to Congress by the end of this year, regardless of the outcome of the election.
The National Urban League, the League of Women Voters, other groups and local governments had sued to keep the count underway, saying that an inaccurate census would “facilitate another illegal act: suppressing the political power of communities of color by excluding undocumented people from the final apportionment count.”The court’s ruling was issued without a stated reason, although that’s common in emergency application cases.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying that “the harms associated with an inaccurate census are avoidable and intolerable. Meeting the deadline at the expense of the accuracy of the census is not a cost worth paying, especially when the Government has failed to show why it could not bear the lesser cost of expending more resources to meet the deadline or continuing its prior efforts to seek an extension from Congress.”