WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed as premature a challenge seeking to block President Donald Trump’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants living in the United States from the population count used to allocate congressional districts to states.
The 6-3 decision said it was too soon to rule on the legality of Trump’s plan — removing unauthorized immigrants from the U.S. Census count outlined in a July memo — and gives his administration a short-term victory in the final weeks of his presidency.
However, his administration is battling against the clock to follow through on the vaguely defined proposal before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan 20. The justices left open the possibility of fresh litigation if Trump’s administration completes its plan.
The unsigned opinion said that “judicial resolution of this dispute is premature” and “at present, this case is riddled with contingencies and speculation that impede judicial review” in part because it is not clear how many people the administration would seek to exclude and whether the division of House of Representatives seats would be affected.
“Consistent with our determination that standing has not been shown and that the case is not ripe, we express no view on the merits of the constitutional and related statutory claims presented. We hold only that they are not suitable for adjudication at this time,” the court said in the decision.
Challengers led by New York state and the American Civil Liberties Union said Trump’s proposal would dilute the political clout of states with larger numbers of such immigrants, including heavily Democratic California, by undercounting state populations and depriving them of congressional seats to the benefit of Republicans. Also at issue is allocation of some federal funding that the Census determines.
But the court’s decision Friday is not a final ruling on the matter and it’s not clear whether Trump will receive final numbers from the Census Bureau before he leaves office next month. The ruling noted that the court was not weighing the merits of Trump’s plan.
“This ruling does not authorize President Trump’s goal of excluding undocumented immigrants from the census count used to apportion the House of Representatives,” said Dale Ho, the ACLU lawyer who argued the case for the challengers.
The three liberal justices dissented, saying the effort to exclude people in the country from the population for divvying up House seats is unlawful.
“I believe this Court should say so,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
By statute, the president is required to send Congress a report in early January with the population of each of the states and their entitled number of House districts.
Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall told the justices during the Nov. 30 oral argument in the case that the administration could miss a Dec. 31 statutory deadline to finalize a Census Bureau report to Trump containing the final population data, including the number of unauthorized immigrants excluded.
While Trump’s administration did not disclose the method it would use to calculate which subsets of immigrants it would exclude, Wall told the justices it was “very unlikely” enough data would be amassed to exclude all undocumented immigrants and the number may not be large enough to affect apportionment.
The Constitution requires apportionment of House seats to be based upon the “whole number of persons in each state.” Until now, the U.S. government’s practice was to count all people regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
Trump’s administration has a mixed record at the high court on immigration. The justices upheld his ban on travel to the U.S. by residents of some largely Muslim countries. But the court ruled against an attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs and blocked a bid to add a citizenship question to the census for the first time in 70 years.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. All reporting by AP’s Mark Sherman and Reuters’ Lawrence Hurley.