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

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