Wednesday, 21 Oct 2020

The Census, the Supreme Court and Why the Count Is Stopping Early

The Supreme Court has allowed the Trump administration to stop the 2020 count. Here’s what that means for the census.

By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Adam Liptak and Michael Wines

Counting all of the people in the United States is always a giant task for the Census Bureau. But if ever there was a more difficult year than most to conduct the tally, it would seem to be 2020.

Yet, the Constitution demands that the count be carried out every 10 years — even in the middle of a pandemic, a bitter presidential election and a fight over the future of the Supreme Court.

That intense mix of factors was at play this week when the court allowed the Trump administration to stop the census before its scheduled end date. The Census Bureau said on Wednesday that people can fill out the census form online until 6 a.m. Eastern time on Friday and that paper responses must be postmarked by Thursday. People can also fill out the census by phone through Thursday, when Census Bureau workers will also end efforts to reach out to households that have not responded.

Here’s what to know about the count, why it was cut short and what comes next.

What happened with the census this week?

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Trump administration to stop the 2020 census count before it was scheduled to end, effectively cutting short the count of U.S. residents that takes place every 10 years.

The court’s order technically only temporarily allows the census count to be stopped while the Trump administration battles with a host of other groups in a lower court over whether the count can be stopped early. But as a practical matter, the decision almost certainly means an early end to the count because the census cannot easily be restarted and little time remains before its current deadline at the end of October.

The Supreme Court justices gave no reasons for their order, which is typical when the court acts on emergency applications. They said simply that the count could be stopped while appeals moved forward.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying that “the harms associated with an inaccurate census are avoidable and intolerable.”

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