WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump faces what could be his last Supreme Court test in office on Nov. 30, when his lawyers defend his plan to exclude millions of undocumented immigrants from the congressional apportionment process.
Trump and his allies have argued that including such individuals in census figures used to reallocate congressional seats dilutes the power of voters in states with few undocumented immigrants. Three panels of federal judges have disagreed, sending the issue to the Supreme Court.
Several complicating factors — the end of Trump's term, the time-sensitive nature of the census process, and the high stakes involved — will make for a fraught set of oral arguments.
Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said if justices spend more time on whether the challengers have standing to be in court at all, versus the merits of their arguments, it could suggest whether they ultimately will make a definitive ruling, or punt.
"This is one of those cases where we will learn a lot in oral argument," Turley said, pointing to Chief Justice John Roberts' leanings to preserve the high court's independence.
The case has high stakes; the Pew Research Center estimates that Trump's effort to exclude undocumented immigrants could shift as many as half a dozen congressional seats among the states.
The administration has pushed to execute that plan before losing control of the apportionment process when President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
Census results are also used in legislative map making, guiding $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year and thousands of private business decisions.
Trump signed the memorandum seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants in July. Shortly after that, the administration dropped efforts to extend the census count so Trump could still control apportionment calculations regardless of who won the November election.
Several states and civil rights groups filed suit over Trump's memorandum, resulting in lower court decisions against the administration.