Supreme Court reverses Census ruling, bureau can end counting


Last updated 10/14/2020 at 1:53pm

Staff and wire reports

Montana’s Democratic governor and lieutenant governor and U.S. senator Tuesday all blasted a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning lower court decisions requiring the Census to continue counting through the end of the month.

All three said ending the count early could lead to short counts in Montana, reducing federal funding to the state and potentially impacting whether Montana gets a second seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“This is a disappointing act of judicial activism from the Supreme Court, which will allow this administration to undermine the Census and disadvantage Montanans and rural America for the next decade,” Sen Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a release. “Every Montanan needs to be counted because funding for our schools, hospitals, emergency services — even a second congressional seat — hangs in the balance. Congress must step in and prevent this abuse of executive power by passing my bipartisan legislation to give the Census Bureau more time to do its job, and I urge Senator McConnell to stop blocking this bill and work with me to get it done.”

Tester cosponsored the bipartisan 2020 Census Extension Act, which would extend two key statutory deadlines for the 2020 Census and require the Census Bureau to continue field operations through Oct. 31.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-Ky., has not scheduled that bill for any hearings or debate.

Tester’s release said that he, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, and Montana Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney urged U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to follow a U.S. District Court ruling ordering the Trump administration to halt its attempts to end Census operations early. They also asked Dillingham to immediately conduct tribal consultation on Census data processing to ensure accurate and quality results in Indian Country.

Bullock is challenging U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., in Daines’ bid for a second term in the U.S. Senate. Bullock cannot run for re-election as governor due to term limits.

“I respect the ruling of the court,” Daines, who also co-sponsored the 2020 Census Extension Act, said in a release this afternoon. “I’m very pleased to have secured additional resources from the Trump administration to ensure a full and accurate account for Montana, and I am glad to hear that the Census Bureau is working diligently to finish Montana’s count with a particular emphasis on the Fort Peck Reservation.”

Cooney is facing U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., and Libertarian Lyman Bishop in the race for Montana governor.

Gainforte, who is not a co-sponsor of the House companion Census extension bill, also had not issued a statement by printing deadline this morning.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s action to allow the U.S. Census Bureau to end the decennial count early will have lasting and damaging impacts on Montana,” Bullock said in a joint press release with Cooney.  “As Justice Sotomayor recognizes in her dissent, rural and tribal places will be disproportionally impacted. Congress now has within its power to hold the U.S. Census Bureau accountable and require the constitutionally mandated count to continue through October.”

“Throwing the Census further into chaos is a disservice to the people of Montana, particularly Montanans living in rural and tribal communities. Entire communities in Montana have not been fully counted, which puts at risk more than $2 billion in annual federal funds that pay for our roads, schools and hospitals,” Cooney, the chairman of the Montana Complete Count Committee, said in the release. “An inaccurate count of Montanans means our local legislative and voting districts won’t match our communities, and it means Montana is less likely to regain a second seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

The Census Bureau originally rescheduled the counting deadline to Oct. 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting operations.

The bureau later moved the deadline back to Sept. 30.

A federal judge ruled the Census Bureau must continue the counting through Oct. 31 and adjust deadlines for counts for legislative apportionment.

A three-judge panel sided with that ruling when it was appealed.

The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday overturned that ruling.

The Bullock-Cooney release said disruptions from COVID-19, continued changes to the U.S. Census Bureau’s counting operations, the size and rural nature of Montana’s landscape and other factors have put Montana behind other states in the decennial count. Montana’s self-response rate is 60.3 percent, compared to the national average of 66.8 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Tester’s release said Montana ranks 45th among states in its overall response rate, and delays in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the decision to end field operations early could result in a severe undercount of the population — particularly in the state’s Native American, minority, and rural communities. If Montana is unable to complete a full and accurate count, the state risks losing access to funding for education, infrastructure, hospitals and emergency services, in addition to an additional seat in the U.S. Congress.

The website and phone number remain operational at the time of the release of the Bullock-Cooney statement, the release said. People can respond at http://MY2020CENSUS.GOV, or call 1-844-330-2020.


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