For the third time in two months, civil rights groups and state and local governments were asking judges to strike down a directive from President Donald Trump that would exclude people living in the U.S. illegally from being counted when deciding how many congressional seats each state gets.
The coalition of civil rights groups and state and local governments called Thursday on federal judges in California to rule that Trump’s order was illegal, claiming it discriminates against people based on race, ethnicity, and national origin. They said Trump’s order goes against 230 years of U.S. history, will cause them to lose political representation and is discouraging people in the country illegally from participating in the 2020 census.
Trump administration attorneys say the challenge to the order is premature and should be dismissed.
The numbers used for deciding how many congressional seats each state gets is a process known as apportionment. It is derived from the once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident that is set to end at the end of the month. The census also helps determine the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding annually.
After Trump issued the order last July, around a half dozen lawsuits were filed across the U.S., challenging it. Hearings on the order already have been held in Washington and New York, and a panel of three federal judges in New York ruled that it was unlawful. The Trump administration has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The New York judges didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the memorandum, merely saying it violated federal laws on the census and apportionment. That left open the door for the judges in the other cases to rule on other aspects of the president’s memorandum. Other lawsuits challenging the memorandum have been filed in Maryland and Massachusetts, and a lawsuit filed two years ago in Alabama covers the same ground.
The California case was being heard virtually Thursday before three district judges. They included U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, who last month in a separate case stopped the Trump administration from finishing the census at the of September, allowing the count to go on for another month through October. A different coalition of civil rights groups and local governments had sued the Trump administration for the extra time, arguing minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the counting ended early.
The Trump administration on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to put Koh’s order on hold.
Although the legal fights over Trump’s order and when the census will end are being fought in separate court cases, opponents challenging the Trump administration say they are intertwined since the census schedule was shortened to accommodate Trump’s order.
Facing disruptions to field operations because of the pandemic, the Census Bureau proposed a new timetable in April that extended the deadline for finishing the count from the end of July to the end of October and pushed the apportionment deadline from Dec. 31 to next April. The proposal to extend the apportionment deadline passed the Democratic-controlled House, but the Republican-controlled Senate didn’t move on the request. The Republicans’ inaction coincided with Trump’s order. Then, last August, Census Bureau officials shortened the count schedule by a month so that it would finish at the end of September, saying they needed to do so to meet the Dec. 31 deadline.
By sticking to the Dec. 31 deadline, the apportionment count would be under the control of the Trump administration no matter who wins the presidential election next month.