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Photo: Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Tuesday approved the Trump administration's emergency application to stop census field operations early while litigation over the once-a-decade count continues in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Why it matters: Civil rights groups fear that cutting off field operations now could lead to an undercount, which would affect how congressional seats are reapportioned.

Context: Lower courts had previously ordered the Commerce Department to continue counting through Oct. 31, but the Trump administration argued that the census must move to the complex data processing phase immediately in order to have time to meet an end-of-year deadline.

  • Local governments and civil rights groups sued over the plan to stop the count early, arguing that the Trump administration was seeking to accommodate a July order from the president that would exclude unauthorized immigrants from the census, per AP.
  • That order was blocked by a three-judge federal panel in New York in September, but the Trump administration appealed to the Supreme Court.

What they're saying: Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only justice to comment on the order, writing in a dissenting opinion the court "normally does not grant extraordinary relief on such a painfully disproportionate balance of harms."

  • "The Government articulates a single harm: that if data collection continues through October 31, the Bureau will not meet the December 31 statutory deadline to report census results to the President. But it is unlikely the District Court’s injunction will be the cause of the Bureau’s inability to do so."

The big picture: Throughout the count, city officials have grown frustrated with a lack of communication from the Census Bureau and frequent process changes that have confused residents — particularly those who are historically less likely to respond, such as minority and low-income communities.

  • The coronavirus pandemic also complicated the count by preventing some in-person events, door-knocking campaigns and other strategies to boost responses.

Go deeper: This year's census may be the toughest count yet

Go deeper

Trump's judicial legacy will block Biden's

Data: Federal Judicial CenterU.S. Courts; Note: Trump data is through Dec. 1, 2002; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

President Trump’s astounding record of judicial appointments will not only reshape the judiciary for a generation, but it will likely deny President-elect Joe Biden the chance to put much of his own stamp on the courts.

Supreme Court punts on challenge to Trump's congressional apportionment plan

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday threw out a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s plans to exclude undocumented immigrants from the population base used for congressional seat apportionment, calling the challenge "premature."

Why it matters: The decision to punt would hypothetically allow the Trump administration to move forward with its plans to exclude undocumented immigrants. But it's unclear whether it is even possible for the administration to follow through on it, and if they did, there could still be legal challenges.

Democrats fret about Garland for attorney general

Judge Merrick Garland. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

If Joe Biden picks Merrick Garland to be his attorney general, he could cost his party control of one of the most important judicial appointments in America — and many Democrats do not want the president-elect to take that chance.

How it works: Biden still hasn't named his choice to lead the Justice Department, and if he taps Garland, it would open up his seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. If Democrats don’t win both Georgia Senate runoff seats next month, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would almost surely prevent the president-elect from filling it.