Soon after he is sworn into office, President-elect Joe Biden will reverse President Trump’s most aggressive moves to hijack the 2020 census, according to a preview of executive orders Biden will sign laid out by his advisors Tuesday evening.
Among the orders that Biden will sign Wednesday is a census executive order that will rescind”Trump’s plan, announced in July, to exclude certain immigrants from the census population counts used for congressional apportionment. The order will also undo a 2019 Trump order directing the Census Bureau to produce data on noncitizens, with the aim of facilitating a redistricting overhaul that would have also diminished immigrant political power.
Trump’s approach to the census data “violates the constitution and the Census Act and is inconsistent with our nation’s history and our commitment to representative democracy,” Susan Rice, Biden’s incoming domestic policy chief, told reporters on a call Tuesday.
“President Biden will ensure that the Census Bureau has time to complete an accurate population count for each state,” she said. “He will then present to Congress an apportionment that is fair and accurate so that federal resources are efficiently and fairly distributed over the next decade.”
The Trump apportionment policy was the capstone of the administration’s four-year crusade to manipulate the census to boost Republicans’ electoral advantages.
Had President Trump been able to implement the policy before he left office, it stood to shift House seats away from immigrant-rich parts of the country, while boosting the congressional representation for whiter, more reliably-Republican regions.
There was widespread doubt about the policy’s legality — the Supreme Court punted on the initial round of legal challenges brought against the July memo — and the administration ran into significant logistical challenges in trying to implement it as well, leaving Biden with the opportunity to reverse it.
The incoming Biden team has a host of executive actions planned for the early days of his presidency. The priority they’ve put on reversing Trump’s census moves on day one is reflective of both how the census timeline has crashed into the transfer of power and of the major stakes of the data that the decennial survey produces.
Congressional apportionment typically happens in early January in the year after the decennial census. The pandemic disrupted those plans for the 2020 census and the Census Bureau, with Trump’s support, asked Congress for four extra months to deliver the data. Around the time that Trump announced his anti-immigrant apportionment policy, the White House reversed on giving the bureau an extended schedule. The administration instructed the bureau to severely truncate the final phases of the census so that the data would be delivered more quickly, presumably so that Trump would still be in office to implement the policy even if Biden won the election.
The move to speed up the survey raised serious concerns about the accuracy of the data it would produce, while prompting a court fight. The gambit was also ultimately unsuccessful. The bureau still ran into delays — some of them pandemic-related, some of them products of the administration-ordered rush job — that prevented it from releasing the data before the inauguration.
In addition to changing the congressional apportionment base, the Trump administration appeared interested in using the noncitizen data to facilitate an overhaul of how legislative maps are drawn. Currently, redistricting is based on total population, but conservative activists have long sought to draw maps that would equalize districts based on the number of voting age citizens. That change, too, would increase the electoral power of white, rural Republican voters, to the detriment of communities of color.
The collection of the data, which was being assembled using existing government records, was recently halted by Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham, who is facing an inspector general probe over the pressure he and other Trump appointees put on the bureau experts to rush out a report on the data before Biden was sworn in.
Dillingham, whose term doesn’t end until December, announced Monday that he is stepping down with Biden’s inauguration. The Biden team has not revealed its thinking on how it will fill the vacancy, which for now will be occupied in an acting capacity by the bureau’s top career official.