Questions raised about census after court rules against shortening count

Federal courts found the administration's rationale for changing census rules lacked merit

Twice in the past 15 months, the Trump administration has attempted to change significant parts of the 2020 census.

After analyzing the administration’s reasoning for the changes, federal courts found the administration’s rationale lacked merit.

The U.S. Census logo appears on census materials received in the mail with an invitation to fill out census information online on March 19, 2020 in San Anselmo, California. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The first attempt was in June 2019, when the administration said it wanted to add a question about citizenship to the census in order to uphold the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court called that reasoning, “contrived.”

In a second attempt, the administration decided to end the census months earlier than planned, but a federal district judge in California ruled that the Commerce Department had “never articulated a satisfactory explanation” for that decision.

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Those attempts to interfere with the census bring to mind several questions: What is the administration’s purpose in tampering with the census? And why is it being so vague about its reasoning?

According to the New York Times, critics of the administration say the answers are quite simple.

In July, President Donald Trump ordered the Commerce Department to prepare state-by-state counts of unauthorized immigrants to prevent them from being counted in any population totals sent to Congress for reapportionment.

Moving up the count was viewed as an effort to ensure that Trump, should he win the election, controls census figures that will be used next year to reallocate seats in the House of Representatives and draw thousands of political boundaries across the nation.

Scholars say the administration’s effort to take advantage of its power over the census to advance its agenda is unprecedented in modern times, where the national count is valued for its accuracy and nonpartisanship.

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“Judges and civil servants have generally done a good job of safeguarding democratic institutions and procedures that are specifically grounded in law or, as in the case of the census, in the Constitution,” said Larry Bartels, a Vanderbilt University policial science professor.

“They are less well-equipped to safeguard informal norms.”

The census ruling on Thursday suggested the Trump administration’s surreptitious attempts did not work.

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