Supreme Court Allows Census to Be Stopped Early, Sotomayor Calls Decision 'Irreparable' in Dissent

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday granted an emergency request from President Donald Trump's administration to halt the U.S. Census count early.

The U.S. Census Bureau was expected to continue its count through the end of October, but an emergency request filed last week by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and other officials asked the Supreme Court to intervene and halt the count immediately. According to that request, allowing the count to continue through the end of the month would "prevent the Secretary from reporting to the President by December 31, 2020."

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her dissent that the decision would cause "irreparable" harm.

"The harms caused by rushing this year's census count are irreparable," Sotomayor's dissent said. "And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years."

U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2020. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court approved an emergency request from the Trump administration allowing the 2020 census count to end early. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Census Bureau was originally scheduled to continue its count through July 31, but the bureau decided in April that extending the count deadline through October was necessary due to the difficulties census workers were facing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Sotomayor pointed to that April decision in her dissent.

"In the words of the Bureau's associate director for field operations, it was 'ludicrous' to expect the Bureau to 'complete 100% of the nation's data collection earlier than [October 31]' in the middle of a pandemic," Sotomayor wrote.

In August, the Census Bureau said it was changing its data collection deadline again—to September 30—in order to meet the December 31 reporting deadline. That latest decision has played out in the courts in the weeks since it was announced, with October 31 serving as the tentative data collection deadline until the Supreme Court's decision on Tuesday.

The request's argument that the count needed to halt in order to allow for on-time reporting conflicted with earlier statements from government officials that it was impossible to meet that December 31 deadline, Sotomayor wrote. "Moreover, meeting the deadline at the expense of the accuracy of the census is not a cost worth paying, especially when the Government has failed to show why it could not bear the lesser cost of expending more resources to meet the deadline or continuing its prior efforts to seek an extension from Congress," she said.

If the bureau has to "sacrifice accuracy" by ending its count early, the results would impact the money and resources distributed to communities at the state and federal levels, Sotomayor said. She acknowledged that Ross has said the bureau is nearly finished with its count already but said marginalized communities are more likely to be overlooked in the census count and would thus be impacted most.

"When governments allocate resources using census data, those populations will disproportionately bear the burden of any inaccuracies," Sotomayor wrote.

In a statement shared with Newsweek, the U.S. Census Bureau said the count will end on Thursday. "As of today, well over 99.9% of housing units have been accounted for in the 2020 Census. Self-response and field data collection operations for the 2020 Census will conclude on October 15, 2020," the statement said.

The bureau said that individuals can continue submitting their responses online through 11:59 p.m. HST on Thursday and responses delivered by mail must be postmarked by that date in order to be counted.

Updated 10/14 at 10:40 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to include a response from the U.S. Census Bureau.