The court said the challengers, a coalition of states led by New York and immigrant rights groups, had not suffered the legal prejudice necessary to bring the case because the government had yet to announce the individuals it was seeking to exclude from the census.
Census officials indicated that they are having difficulties processing timely census responses to produce a final count by the end of the year deadline.
The court stressed that it “did not express any opinion” on the merits of the case, but concluded that the dispute is currently “premature” due to procedural issues regarding whether the case is properly before the judges.
The court also contested the case as “full of contingencies and speculation impeding judicial review.”
Judge Stephen Breyer, writing for Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Cagan, criticized the court’s decision to dismiss the case on the basis of “uncertainty” about how Commerce Department officials were trying to implement Trump’s directives.
Breyer wrote that “the question is ready to be resolved” and that the court should have reached the subject of the dispute and ruled against the president.
“The clear meaning of governing laws, decades of historical practice, and uniform interpretations from all three branches of government show that foreigners without legal status cannot be excluded from the decennial census only because of that status,” Breyer wrote. “The government’s efforts to remove her from the distribution base are illegal, and I think this court should say that.”
Steve Vladik, a CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas, described Friday’s decision as “a kind of muddle”.
On the one hand, the court has abandoned the efforts of a number of different prosecutors to prevent the Trump administration from excluding illegal immigrants from dividing the next year. On the other hand, part of the reason is because it is not at all clear that the government will be able to implement its controversial policy before That the Biden administration takes office on January 20. “
“So although today’s ruling is a victory for the Trump administration, it may only be temporary – with the benefits of the policy and whether it will actually be implemented in a time yet to be decided,” Vladek added.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the Supreme Court decision was “only about timing, not merits” – and that if Trump’s policy is implemented, it will be challenged again in court.
“This ruling does not endorse President Trump’s goal of excluding illegal immigrants from the census used to divide the House of Representatives,” Dale Hu, the voting rights project director at the American Civil Liberties Union that has discussed the issue, said in a statement on Friday. “The legal mandate is clear – everyone counts, every person represented in Congress. If this policy is actually implemented, we will go back to court to challenge it.”
The constitution provides that representatives of the House of Representatives “must be distributed” between states by calculating “the total number of people in each state” every 10 years.
Congress instructed the Commerce Secretary to conduct the census and submit the schedule to the president by December 31. The president in turn sends the number to Congress, usually in the first week of January.
Trump issued a memo in July setting out a new policy to exclude illegal immigrants from the distribution base. The memo directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to provide the president with a census of the entire population and a second census excluding “foreigners who are not in legal immigration status.”
“Throughout the nation’s history, the numbers used to determine the division of Congress included every person residing in the United States at the time of the census, whether citizen or non-citizen and whether or not he lived here legal status,” the court held.
The court stressed that Trump’s memo violates “Congress’ authorization to use census results – and only census results – in connection with the distribution process.”
Trump has long sought to use the US census as a way to further his immigration priorities. Last year, the Supreme Court refused to attempt to question the defendants if they were US citizens.
This story has been updated with additional details.
Gregory Wallace and Carolyn Kelly of CNN contributed to this report.