Calling the case “riddled with contingencies and speculation that impede judicial review,” the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision on Friday avoided ruling on a challenge to a Trump administration memo excluding unauthorized immigrants from the congressional apportionment base in the 2020 census.
“At the end of the day, the standing and ripeness inquiries both lead to the conclusion that judicial resolution of this dispute is premature,” the high court’s majority held in a per curiam opinion.
The challenge to the policy came out of a New York federal court, which enjoined it in September. The Trump administration’s July 21 memo didn’t exclude unauthorized immigrants from being counted in the census at all, but from being counted in determining the number of seats apportioned to each state in the U.S. House of Representatives. The census itself doesn’t gather information on residents’ citizenship or immigration status.
Because the census doesn’t collect citizenship status, the New York court held, adhering to that scheme while implementing the memo’s policy would be impossible. A California federal court issued a similar injunction in October, going so far as to call the policy unconstitutional.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case last month. California is home to more than 2.2 million unauthorized immigrants, and the brief noted that the Trump administration’s memo “expressly singles out California” by predicting that the state would lose House seats under the policy.
In concluding that the case is unripe for its review, the Supreme Court’s majority held that the policy “may not prove feasible to implement” and that the potential impact on funding or resources “is no more certain.”
The majority vacated the New York district court’s injunction and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.
Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, wrote a dissent to state his view that the case is ripe for resolution and that the plaintiffs should prevail on the case’s merits.
“The plain meaning of the governing statutes, decades of historical practice, and uniform interpretations from all three branches of Government demonstrate that aliens without lawful status cannot be excluded from the decennial census solely on account of that status,” Breyer wrote. “The Government’s effort to remove them from the apportionment base is unlawful, and I believe this Court should say so.”
The litigation came amid a chaotic census year, during which the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the U.S. Census Bureau’s plans for administering the once-a-decade count and hampered data collection efforts. Last month the bureau said it might not be able to meet this year’s Dec. 31 deadline for processing that data.
The case is Trump v. New York, case number 20-366, in the Supreme Court of the United States.
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