The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that states can reduce the population count for Congress if Congress fails to pass a constitutionally required report by March 1, 2020, sending the current population count to the lower court.
The Supreme Court’s decision will likely set off more fierce battles over the results of the 2020 census.
The court’s ruling stems from an ongoing legal dispute over the citizenship question added to the 2020 census, which critics said would only stymie accurate counts by immigrants.
On Monday, the court voted 5-4 to strike down a lower court’s decision to block the national census from moving forward until the citizenship question had been answered.
The court ruled that current Census Bureau practices require a March 1 deadline to submit estimates on a state’s population based on a number of factors, including changes in the U.S. Census Bureau’s population processing equipment.
A lower court judge had dismissed the disputed case based on the Census Bureau’s estimate that, if the citizenship question were removed before March 1, the final 2016 census count would likely have been reduced by 300,000.
The Ninth Circuit court had blocked that lower court’s decision to block the 2020 census, saying that Congress had the legal authority to change the timing of the 2020 census.
In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled in support of that lower court’s argument, saying that Census Bureau procedures were designed in a way that would allow the agency to continue to count the nation’s population even if Congress was slow to pass a congressional report on immigrants’ citizenship status.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the judgment, as did Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote a separate dissent, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
This article was originally published in The New York Times.
Adam Liptak is the Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times.