The US Supreme Court granted an emergency petition Tuesday to stay an injunction issued by a federal district court against the Census Bureau, effectively permitting the Trump administration to immediately halt the national census.
A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California granted the preliminary injunction against the Census Bureau in late September. The Census Bureau, under direction from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, sought to end the decennial census a month earlier than scheduled on September 30 instead of the original deadline of October 31. The Census Bureau had previously extended its deadline from July 31 to October 31 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic but abruptly altered course after public pressure from President Donald Trump in July. The court concluded that ending the census early would have a large impact on the accuracy of the data and that Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham had failed to adequately consider a number of issues, such as whether the shortened census would lead to errors in representation and government appropriations due to an inaccurate population count. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the injunction last week, and the Trump administration appealed to the Supreme Court immediately.
In its unsigned order, the Supreme Court offered no rationale for its decision to grant the stay.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the sole recorded dissent, penning a seven-page dissent included with the order. Sotomayor took umbrage with both the Trump administration’s failure to adequately explain why an earlier deadline was needed as well as the court’s grant of the stay for failing to apply its own standards for determining the propriety of an injunction. In particular, Sotomayor said that the Trump administration had failed to demonstrate more harm than missing the final filing deadline of December 31 and that actions and statements made by Ross and other administration officials had already conceded that it was “effectively impossible” that the Bureau would miss that deadline even with the extended October 31 end date. Without a more compelling harm, Sotomayor said that the injunction properly protected the interests of the parties and that the court misapplied its normal balancing test when weighing whether to overrule an injunction.
The Census Bureau has not yet commented on the ruling, and it is unclear when the count will cease. The Bureau released a statement earlier in the day touting that it believed that “99.9% of housing units” have been counted.