Tanzina: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court approved a request by the Trump administration to end the census count by 11:59 PM, Hawaii Standard Time today. This is just the latest development and a legal back and forth over the census deadlines, which were extended earlier this year because of delays caused by the pandemic. Civil rights advocacy organizations are worried that the Trump administration's decision to end the count early could result in an undercount in the census, which would hurt state funding and misrepresent how many seats a state could have in the house of representatives for the next decade.
We've talked a lot on the show about the ways in which the census matters to various communities. What happens now? Who better to help us understand all of this than Hansi Lo Wang, NPR's national correspondent on the 2020 census? Hansi, welcome back.
Hansi: Thank you, Tanzina.
Tanzina: Lots happening. Why did the Trump administration want to end the count today?
Hansi: The Trump administration says it's trying to meet this legal deadline for reporting the first set of census results to the president, December 31st, that's the date, on the law books, but the Census Bureau's top career officials have said since May that because of delays caused by the pandemic, the Bureau can no longer meet that deadline that's why the Trump administration and President Trump himself called for Congress to pass the deadline extensions back in April.
Those deadline extensions have not been passed by Congress. December 31st is still that reporting deadline. The Trump administration, for whatever reason, in July, stopped asking Congress to pass those deadline extensions, and instead, another really interesting thing happened. President Trump issued this memo calling for the exclusion of unauthorized immigrants from the census numbers used to a portion to reallocate house seats, seats in the House of Representatives, among the states.
What's interesting is that if the Trump administration can meet this December 31st deadline, despite what career officials have said about delays and all the issues with the pandemic, this would allow President Trump to can control the numbers regardless of whether or not he can win re-election.
Tanzina: We're talking about a 15-day difference here. Initially, Americans were given to the end of October and now they're given till the 15th, which is today. Does it really make a difference in terms of how many people will be able to fill out the census, Hansi?
Hansi: This can make a major difference in many communities across the country where not every person has been counted. Not every person living in the country has been counted. There are tribal areas, states like Louisiana, that have not hit a 99% completion rate, meaning the Bureau has not accounted for at least 99% of the housing units. We don't know what it looks like in local communities. We only have some insight into what it looks like in certain states.
This extra time is what the Bureau has relied on to send out door knockers, to really try to convince households that have not yet participated and need that in-person interaction to try to get people to participate. Communities of color, rural residents, renters, these are all historically under-counted groups that time is really the major factor here. Extra time, extra outreach, that's how the Bureau historically has been able to make sure that every person, as close to as every person is counted in the census.
Tanzina: Hansi, you mentioned that the president really wants to make sure that undocumented people are not counted in this census count, but can he do that? Doesn't the census not care whether or not someone is documented? It's supposed to be a count of how many people are in this country.
Hansi: That's right. It's supposed to be a count of every person living in the country. To be clear, the memo that President Trump issued in July is not about excluding unauthorized immigrants from the census in general. It is specifically from the numbers that are used from the census to determine each state's share of congressional seats, specifically the seats in the House of Representatives. That is something that the Trump administration is arguing that President Trump has discretion.
There is this process where the Census Bureau through the commerce secretary who oversees the Bureau, passes off to the president by December 31st, the current federal law, the latest state population counts. Those are the numbers used to determine each state sheriff congressional seats for the next 10 years. President Trump, that whoever is president, is supposed to hand over those numbers to Congress in January, and then Congress, the clerk of the house, is supposed to certify those numbers and inform each of the state's governors.
This is a multistep process. President Trump plays a role if he is in the White House in December. This is something that traditionally presidents have not made major changes or called for major changes like this, to who is included in account because, since 1790, the numbers have included both citizens and non-citizens regardless of immigration status.
Tanzina: To that point, will this be challenged in court?
Hansi: This is something that a court in New York has already blocked the Trump administration from carrying out and that ruling has been appealed to the Supreme Court. The Trump administration is trying to get that ruling overturned and ultimately I'm watching to see when this becomes officially a Supreme Court fight. We're watching to see exactly if and when the Supreme Court will hear this appeal.
Tanzina: What does that mean then for the census count? Will it be held up because of the potential for an additional Supreme Court battle here or will we have a sense of where things stand before the next president or before we know who our next president will be?
Hansi: The counting is set to end today and so that will be finished in a few hours here. Exactly what the results of that counts will be, we will have to see how this other legal fight over this memo that President Trump wants to carry out, how that plays out. The Trump administration has said they plan to release the latest state population counts, the first set of results, to the president and to the public at the same time. December 31st is that legal deadline.
We'll see if that does come out in time. Then as for more detailed census results, that's a major question right now because this Trump administration has not really clarified exactly when they'll be ready to release that information given all the focus on the memo.
Tanzina: Really important stuff. Hansi Lo Wang is an NPR national correspondent on the 2020 census. Hansi, thanks so much for joining.
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