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Supreme Court reviews Trump effort to change census data on immigrants

President Trump’s immigration policies and the U.S. census were back at the Supreme Court on Monday. As John Yang reports, the issues at stake in the case have the potential of shaping congressional and presidential politics for years to come.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump's immigration policies and the census or back at the Supreme Court today.

    As John Yang reports, the case has the potential to shape Congress and presidential politics for years to come.

  • John Yang:

    Every 10 years, workers fan out across the country to count the nation's population.

  • Actor:

    Counting everyone in your home helps support your neighborhood for the next 10 years by funding things like schools, hospitals and buses.

  • John Yang:

    The Constitution requires a count of the whole number of persons in each state to determine how many representatives in Congress and how many electoral votes each state will have until the next census, a process called apportionment.

  • Narrator:

    It can help us all, in Lincoln's words, to better judge what to do and how to do it.'

  • John Yang:

    In July, President Trump ordered that undocumented immigrants be excluded from that process for the first time in history. He said including them would reward states adopting policies that encourage illegal immigration with greater representation in Congress.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    Theoretically, it would shift seats away, House seats away, from states with a higher share of unauthorized immigrants and shift them toward states with a lower share of unauthorized immigrants.

  • John Yang:

    NPR correspondent Hansi Lo Wang covers the census.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    A Justice Department attorney during a court hearing was asked, is this memo referring to a state like California? And the Justice Department attorney said, yes, this memo is referring to, as an example, California, to shift away House seats from California to another state.

  • John Yang:

    Today, acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall got tough questions about the president's policy from Mr. Trump's latest Supreme Court pick, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

  • Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett:

    If an undocumented person has been in the country for, say, 20 years, even if illegally, as you say, why would such a person not have settled residence here?

  • Jeffrey Wall:

    I'm not disputing at all that illegal aliens form ties to the community in the sense you're talking about. But they're not the sort of ties that are sufficient to qualify you within the apportionment base.

  • John Yang:

    Justice Samuel Alito pressed New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, who argued against the policy, on who should be counted.

  • Associate Justice Samuel Alito:

    A tourist who is here on a valid visa?

  • Barbra Underwood:

    No.

  • Associate Justice Samuel Alito:

    A tourist who overstays her visa and is therefore here illegally?

  • Barbra Underwood:

    That person is a resident, like any other undocumented person.

  • John Yang:

    Justice Stephen Breyer suggested the president's order could also affect the distribution of about $1.5 trillion in yearly federal spending on programs like Medicare, Head Start and school lunches.

  • Associate Justice Stephen Breyer:

    I think are there not many statutes which divide funds among the states on the basis of population, and then they say something like, "as shown by the most recent decennial census."

  • John Yang:

    Even if the justices rule that President Trump may exclude undocumented immigrants, it's not clear how he would do that. Last year, the high court blocked his attempt to add a citizenship question to the census.

    Today, questioned by Justice Alito, the government's attorney acknowledged the challenge.

  • Associate Justice Samuel Alito:

    To exclude the 10.5 million seems to me a monumental task, to do that without sampling, to take 300-million plus names and determine individually for each of those people whether they are lawfully in the United States. And I would think you would be able to tell us whether that remains a realistic possibility at this point.

  • Jeffrey Wall:

    I think it is very unlikely that the bureau will be able to identify all or substantially all illegal aliens present in the country.

  • John Yang:

    Another complication, the calendar. The pandemic has already put the census months behind schedule.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    It's not clear if President Trump will have control of these numbers from the Census Bureau that he could try to alter.

    Right now, their target date is January 26, after Inauguration Day. This is a process right now that's on track to take place during the Biden administration.

  • John Yang:

    Given the uncertainties, several justices asked whether it would be better to wait. Chief Justice John Roberts:

  • Chief Justice John Roberts:

    We don't know how many aliens would be excluded. We don't know what the effect of that would be on apportionment. All these questions would be resolved if we wait until the apportionment takes place. So, why aren't we better advised to do that?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Well, it's sort of a practical, as well as a substantive concern here.

  • John Yang:

    Marcia Coyle is chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal."

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Every court has to decide whether it's got a case or controversy, somebody has been injured and how to provide relief for that injury.

    And so, if they don't know all the facts they need to know to determine that, then the case could be what some would say not ripe for decision.

  • John Yang:

    Nonetheless, the Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court for a speedy ruling.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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