Court Battles

Court blocks Trump order to exclude undocumented immigrants from census

A federal court ruled Thursday that President Trump’s order to exclude undocumented immigrants from census numbers for apportioning congressional districts is unlawful.

A unanimous three-judge panel for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said in its decision that Trump’s executive memorandum violates the executive branch’s “constitutional responsibility to count the whole number of persons in each State and to apportion members of the House of Representatives among the States according to their respective numbers.”

“The merits of the parties’ dispute are not particularly close or complicated,” the panel wrote in its 86-page unsigned opinion.

“The President is not free to substitute his own view of what is most ‘consonant with the principles of representative democracy’ for the view that Congress already chose,” the panel added, quoting the president’s memo.


The panel consisted of two judges appointed by Republican presidents and one by a Democrat.

A White House spokesman declined to comment. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond when asked for comment and the Department of Commerce declined to comment. 

In a statement to The Hill, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) noted the decision was a “major victory in the fight to protect the 2020 Decennial Census.” 

“President Trump’s repeated attempts to hinder, impair, and prejudice an accurate census and the subsequent apportionment have failed once again,” said James, according to the statement.

“The courts have ruled in our favor on every census matter in the last two years and continually rejected President Trump’s unlawful efforts to manipulate the census for political purposes.”

The ruling prohibits the Department of Commerce from reporting any information regarding undocumented immigrants in its census count that could be used to implement the president’s directive.

But the judges said the agency should continue to study whether it would be feasible to calculate the number of undocumented immigrants in each state, in case the ruling is overturned on appeal.

The decision is another major court defeat for the White House, which has repeatedly attempted to weight the census with citizenship data.

Last year, the Supreme Court blocked the president’s effort to add a citizenship question to the census, ruling that the administration’s stated rationale for the move was “contrived.”

Trump followed that up in July with his executive memo to the Commerce department directing it to exclude undocumented immigrants from each state’s population when calculating the apportionment of congressional seats.

The move immediately prompted legal challenges from immigrant rights groups and several states, who argued that the memorandum plainly violated legal and constitutional requirements that apportionment be determined based on a state’s whole population.

“This is a huge victory for voting rights and for immigrants’ rights,” Dale Ho, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union representing the groups that brought one of the lawsuits, said in a statement. “President Trump has tried and failed yet again to weaponize the census against immigrant communities. The law is clear — every person counts in the census.”

In oral arguments before the panel last week, the three judges appeared skeptical of the administration’s memo and at times even chastised the DOJ lawyer who argued on behalf of the government.

The court on Thursday declined to rule on the plaintiff’s allegations that the memo was unconstitutional, saying it was unnecessary given that it plainly violated laws governing the administration of the census.

Updated 7:17 p.m.

Tags Census Donald Trump
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