WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court sounded skeptical Monday that President Donald Trump could categorically exclude people living in the country illegally from the population count used to allot seats among the states in the House of Representatives.
But it also appeared possible that the justices could avoid a final ruling on the issue until they know how broadly the Trump administration acts in its final days in office and whether the division of House seats is affected.
No president has tried to do what Trump outlined in a memo in July — remove millions of noncitizens from the once-a-decade head count of the U.S. population that determines how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives, as well as the allocation of some federal funding.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett was among several members of the court who said the administration’s argument for broad discretion in deciding whom to exclude is troublesome because “a lot of the historical evidence and long-standing practice really cuts against your position.”
The court decided to hear the case on a fast track, based on the administration’s plea for a decision by early January, when Trump is required by law to transmit census numbers to Congress.
The Census Bureau is supposed to send the data to Trump by Dec. 31. However, the bureau said last month they are checking anomalies and the data will be delayed. They did not give a new date, only saying they hope some data will be available in January.
Another unknown is if data quality will be affected by the pandemic, a shortened schedule and natural disasters in 2020 that displaced thousands of people.
In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could not include a question on the census that asked if a person was an American citizen.