SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Exactly when counting stops for the 2020 census has been a moving date. The pandemic caused some complications. The Trump administration tried to end the count early, but federal courts stepped in. NPR national correspondent Hansi Lo Wang covers the count and joins us. Hansi, thanks so much for being with us.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Thank you for having me, Scott.
SIMON: Spare us the details, my friend. But the end date for counting has shifted many times over the last few months, hasn't it? Where are we now?
WANG: So many times. Where we are for now is October 31. Federal judge in California, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh - she's hearing this lawsuit over the census schedule. She put out an order this week clarifying that date, October 31, because she said the Trump administration made an egregious violation of her earlier order by tweeting out an earlier end date this week. And the judge has called the administration's - called out the administration's chaotic and incomplete compliance, including texting census workers with an early end date. But the judge ordered the bureau to send out a new text message yesterday to workers. So October 31 is when your household can still get counted, for now.
SIMON: And happy Halloween.
SIMON: What do these next four weeks mean for the count?
WANG: Well, this is a little tricky because those four weeks could shrink. The Trump administration has already appealed this judge's order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and it says it may go all the way to the Supreme Court.
But while this order stays in place, this means that there's more time for door knocking, more time for census workers to try to reach households in tribal areas, rural areas, other historically undercounted groups who may have a lot of distrust of the government, less likely to fill out a census form themselves. So there's more time, and that means there's a better chance of a more accurate count. And that ultimately means a fair distribution of power and money that's tied to the census. We're talking about each state's share of congressional seats, votes in the Electoral College and trillions in federal money for health care, schools, roads for the next 10 years.
SIMON: You mentioned the Trump administration has appealed. Why does the administration want a shorter timeline, do you think?
WANG: The administration says it doesn't want to miss a legal deadline. December 31 is when federal law says the new state population counts from the census are due to the president. Then these are the numbers used for reallocating seats in the House of Representatives. There's 435 seats.
But career officials at the Census Bureau have said for months, as early as May, that because of delays caused by the pandemic, the Census Bureau can no longer meet that December 31 deadline. And so what's interesting is that December 31 is still important to President Trump because of a memo he issued in July that calls for unauthorized immigrants to be excluded from those state population counts used for redistributing seats in Congress, even though the Constitution says those counts must include the whole number of persons in each state.
A court in New York has already said the president can't change those numbers like that. The administration's trying to get the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling. But the bottom line is one way to ensure that President Trump can try to make this change to the numbers, even if he does not win reelection, is if they're delivered to him by December 31.
SIMON: And what happens if they wrap up the count and do that?
WANG: Well, the judge in California, Lucy Koh, has said she's ready to issue sanctions, possibly find the administration contempt of court. I'm watching to see what happens with this appeal of her ruling. There's a hearing set for Monday at the 9th Circuit. And if the appeals court doesn't rule in the Trump administration's favor, we could see this become a legal fight at the Supreme Court.
SIMON: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers the 2020 census. Thanks so much for being with us.
WANG: You're welcome, Scott.
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