AILSA CHANG, HOST:
News now about the census - a special court in New York has ruled to block the Trump administration's attempt to change who counts in the numbers used to allocate congressional seats among the states. President Trump has called for immigrants in the country illegally to be left out, but the court ruled today that under federal law set by Congress, he cannot do that. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers all things census-related, and he joins us now from New York.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So tell us a little more about how the judges arrived at this decision.
WANG: Well, this is a ruling from a special three-judge panel in New York. And they concluded that President Trump - even though he does have some discretion over the census delegated from Congress and discretion over how numbers are used to reallocate seats in the House of Representatives among the states, President Trump, they concluded, has stepped outside the limits of his authority by issuing this memo in late July that calls for unauthorized immigrants to be left out of the count for reapportioning seats in Congress, that that crosses the limits of his authority because Congress has directed the president through Title II of the U.S. Code, for example, to deliver to Congress the apportionment count that is, quote, "a statement showing the whole number of persons in each state." And so this is a major victory for challengers of the memo in two lawsuits, one led by New York State Attorney General's Office and another by immigrant rights groups represented by the ACLU.
CHANG: OK, so what do we know about why President Trump wanted to do this in the first place?
WANG: President Trump said in this memo that he released in July that excluding unauthorized immigrants, in his opinion, from the numbers used for reapportioning Congress would be, quote, "more consonant with the principles of representative democracy underpinning our system of government," unquote. But by doing that, if he were to do that, it goes against more than two centuries of precedent since the very first U.S. Census in 1790. Numbers have included both citizens and non-citizens regardless of immigration status.
You know, here's something we need to remember. The numbers we're talking about are really about how political power is distributed for the next 10 years not just in House seats but also in Electoral College votes. So presumably, there could have been effects here by excluding...
WANG: ...Unauthorized immigrants. That could have transferred more political power to states with lower shares of unauthorized immigrants. But, again, it's really a theory right now because the census is just such a mess right now. Between the pandemic and last-minute schedule changes, no one really knows what the accuracy and what the counts will look like for each state.
CHANG: OK, that's unsettling. Well, what happened today - does that spell the end of this particular legal fight, then?
WANG: Maybe not. That ball is really in the Trump administration's court. This ruling could be appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court because there's a federal law that allows court rulings related to reapportion in Congress made by special three-judge courts to skip review by an appeals court.
And, you know, some important context here is that census experts I've talked to say there's no legal way to do what the Trump administration was trying to do by - through this memo, that the Census Bureau is not collecting information about people's immigration status. So the Bureau would have to produce estimates using statistical sampling, which the Supreme Court ruled in 1999 is not allowed for reapportionment. So that's going to be a big challenge if the Trump situation tries to do this and push forward despite this court ruling in New York. Now, then, keep in mind there are six other lawsuits over this memo...
CHANG: Oh, really?
WANG: ...In play around the country.
CHANG: And in the meantime, the census is still going on. As you say, a lot is still up in the air. So how are those lawsuits affecting all this?
WANG: It just adds to the complication and confusion about who should be counted. And challengers of this memo may be celebrating right now that there might be a little bit more clarity for immigrant groups worried about the census.
CHANG: That is NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.
Thank you, Hansi.
WANG: You're welcome.
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