sotomayor-census-shutdown US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks at Tufts University on Sept. 12, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.
(Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

“The harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next ten years,” Justice Sotomayor said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only judge on the US Supreme Court to rule against closing the 2020 census count early. The new ruling states that the cutoff date for the 2020 census will now be Oct. 15, rather than Oct. 31, as it was before. 

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The back-and-forth issue of the deadline for the 2020 census began in the wake of the pandemic, meaning it would be challenging for the 2020 census to proceed as usual because of COVID-19 restrictions. So, the census deadline got extended. However, the Trump administration moved to change the deadline, severely altering the 2020 census results, which could affect millions of Americans. 

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote: “The harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next ten years.”

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Justice Sotomayor also noted that the US Census Bureau already reported having accounted for 99% of households. However, not having a complete count could have a devastating effect on federal funding to minority communities.

“The Government attempts to downplay that risk by asserting that over 99 percent of households in 49 States are already accounted for,” she writes. “But even a fraction of a percent of the Nation’s 140 million households amounts to hundreds of thousands of people left uncounted. And significantly, the percentage of nonresponses is likely much higher among marginalized populations and in hard-to-count areas, such as rural and tribal lands.”

How the 2020 Census Issue Transpired

At issue was the Trump administration’s request that the Supreme Court suspend a lower court’s order extending the 2020 census through the end of October, following delays caused by the pandemic. The Trump administration argued that the headcount needed to end immediately to give the bureau time to meet a year-end deadline. Congress requires the bureau to turn in the figures used to decide the states’ congressional seats—a process known as apportionment—by Dec. 31.

By sticking to the deadline, the Trump administration would end up controlling the numbers used for the apportionment, no matter who wins next month’s presidential election.

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In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Supreme Court’s decision “regrettable and disappointing,” and said the administration’s actions “threaten to politically and financially exclude many in America’s most vulnerable communities from our democracy.”

The Supreme Court ruling came in response to a lawsuit by a coalition of local governments and civil rights groups, arguing that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the census ended early. They said the schedule was cut short to accommodate a July order from President Donald Trump that would exclude people in the country illegally from being counted in the numbers used for apportionment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.