Tagcensus

Expected census delays may postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021

On Nov. 19, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham announced that, “during post-collection processing, certain processing anomalies have been discovered” in the 2020 United States Census. Dillingham said he had directed the bureau “to utilize all resources available to resolve this as expeditiously as possible.” Also on Nov. 19, The New York Times reported that “a growing number of snags in the massive data-processing operation that generates population totals had delayed the completion of population calculations at least until Jan. 26, [2021], and perhaps to mid-February.”

This expected delay could postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021. At least one state (California) has already extended its redistricting deadlines in light of the uncertainty surrounding the conclusion of the census. On July 17, the California Supreme Court unanimously ordered the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to release draft district plans by Nov. 1, 2021, and final district plans by Dec. 15, 2021. The original deadlines were July 1, 2021, and August 15, 2021, respectively.

The census, apportionment, and redistricting: Every ten years, the United States conducts the census, a complete count of the U.S. population. Census results determine congressional apportionment (i.e., the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives). Because the U.S. Constitution requires that seats in the House be apportioned to the states on the basis of population, a state can gain seats if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states.

Federal law requires congressional and legislative districts to have substantively equal populations. States use census data during their redistricting processes to ensure compliance with this requirement. The standard census timeline calls for the bureau to submit apportionment counts to the President by Dec. 31 and redistricting data to the states by April 1, 2021.

In the 2010 cycle, redistricting authorities enacted 43 new congressional district maps and 50 new state legislative district maps. The majority of these – 63 maps (31 congressional and 32 state legislative), 67.74 percent of the total– were enacted in 2011. In 2012, 28 maps (12 congressional and 16 state legislative) were enacted, 30.11 percent of the total. The remaining maps were enacted in the first six months of 2013.

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U.S. Supreme Court grants expedited review of case on census count

On October 16, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted Trump v. New York for expedited review and scheduled oral argument for November 30, 2020. The case came on a writ of certiorari to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It concerns congressional apportionment following the 2020 U.S. Census. The U.S. government is asking the Supreme Court to consider if the president can order the U.S. secretary of commerce to exclude individuals residing unlawfully in the U.S. from the census’ apportionment base.

On July 21, 2020, President Donald Trump (R) issued a memorandum to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The memorandum said it was the policy of the United States to exclude individuals living unlawfully in the U.S. from the census apportionment base. A coalition of state and local governments sued the government in U.S. district court, arguing the policy violated the U.S. Constitution and laws governing the census and apportionment. The government argued (1) the court did not have jurisdiction to review the claims and (2) the policy was legal. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the coalition, holding the president exceeded his authority in issuing the memorandum. The government appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The government presented the following two questions to the court:

  1. Does the coalition of state and local governments have the legal right—or standing—to challenge the memorandum?
  2. Does the president have the authority to exclude individuals unlawfully residing in the U.S. from the apportionment base?

The census aims to provide a complete count of the U.S. population along with demographic data. The 2020 census is being conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Statistical information on the population collected through the census every 10 years is used for congressional apportionment and the distribution of federal funds.

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SCOTUS allows Trump administration to end 2020 census count

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order on Oct. 13 which allows the Trump administration to end the 2020 census count. SCOTUS stayed an order from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had directed the Trump administration to continue to gather data through the end of October.

The Trump administration had argued that they must be able to conclude the count before the end of October in order to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to report the results to the president. The Justice Department had told the court that “there is virtually no prospect that the [U.S. Census] Bureau will be able to comply with the statutory deadline,” unless they were allowed to end the count.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying: “[T]he harms associated with an inaccurate census are avoidable and intolerable,” and that “meeting the deadline at the expense of the accuracy of the census is not a cost worth paying.”

After the order was issued, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that they would be shutting down on Oct. 15. It has also set that date as the postmark deadline for paper census forms sent by mail, and as the end date for collecting responses through phone calls and door-knocking.

Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a nationwide census in order to provide a comprehensive count of the population with demographic information. This information is used by the government in many ways, including for the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the allocation of federal funds.

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Supreme Court cases, October term 2020-2021
Supreme Court of the United States
United States Census Bureau
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Sonia Sotomayor



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