On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a halt to the Census count while legal action continues in a lower court. The practical result is that the Census is coming to an end more than two weeks before originally planned.
This is a great shame, because as we pointed out two days ago, the U.S. Census carries incredible power. The government sets funding levels for states and towns based on the once-a-decade count, and population levels are used for congressional redistricting. In this most unsettled and uncommon year, it made sense that officials take the time as necessary to ensure an accurate and complete count.
But the Trump administration had its eyes on the Census from the beginning. It first targeted undocumented immigrants and noncitizens, attempting to include a question singling them out. At best, this was clearly meant to intimidate and deter responses from a whole neglected class of Americans. At worst, some suspected it was meant to create a list of those the administration wanted to force out of the country.
That tack failed at the Supreme Court. But the administration kept fiddling, apparently searching for a way to squeeze political advantage out of a formerly apolitical process. The pandemic gave them one more shot, as Census operations were understandably postponed, then moved back and forth on the calendar.
The point of it all was nicely summed up in two paragraphs from the New York Times: The "early end could mean that White House officials, rather than Census Bureau experts, may use the population numbers to determine representation in the House of Representatives and in state and local governments.
"President Trump has insisted those numbers should not include undocumented immigrants living in the United States. That conflicts with the mandate of the Constitution that the census count all residents of the country and would almost certainly give more representation to Republicans."
One of the most toxic features of the current administration is its insistence on seeing every single function of government through a partisan lens. It’s exhausting, and it’s unrealistic. Not every single action or function in life has a secret ideological tilt.
Either people are living in the United States and are counted in the Census, or they’re not. That should be the full story, full stop.
It’s deeply dismaying, too, to see this decision come down while the U.S. Senate rushes through a Supreme Court nomination. Once again, we see the party in power working at all costs to preserve power, to limit the voices of those represented, to make a country that is smaller rather than larger.
Election Day can’t come soon enough.