WASHINGTON — A federal court on Thursday rejected President Trump’s order to exclude unauthorized immigrants from population counts that will be used next year to reallocate seats in the House of Representatives, ruling that it was so obviously illegal that a lawsuit challenging the order need not go to a trial.
The court, a three-judge panel in federal district court in Manhattan, said Mr. Trump’s proposal exceeded his authority under federal law governing the census. The panel said there was no need to consider a second claim in the lawsuit that the president’s order violated the Constitution’s requirement to base apportionment of the House on “the whole number of persons in each state.”
“The merits of the parties’ dispute are not particularly close or complicated,” the judges wrote in granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs, a view that was broadly shared by legal scholars. Two of the judges, United States Circuit Judges Richard C. Wesley and Peter W. Hall, were named to the bench by President George W. Bush. The third, District Judge Jesse M. Furman, was nominated by President Obama.
The case involved lawsuits brought by two sets of plaintiffs, one a group of state and local governments and the United States Conference of Mayors, and the second a coalition of advocacy groups and other nongovernmental organizations. The groups argued that Mr. Trump’s order would cause some of them to lose representation in the House and would damage all of them by leading to a less accurate census.
Since the first census was taken in 1790, the number of seats each state holds in the House of Representatives has been based on counts of everyone living in the United States regardless of citizenship or legal status, save slaves during roughly the nation’s first 90 years.
Mr. Trump tried to scrap that process in July, telling the Commerce Department in a memorandum that the Census Bureau should produce two population counts — one that has been taken every decade, and the other an estimate of the number of unauthorized immigrants living in each state.
Subtracting the immigrant population from census totals would have excluded millions of people from the population counts used for reapportionment, reducing the number of House seats allotted to states with large immigrant populations like California, Texas and Florida. Those seats would have been redistributed to states with few unauthorized immigrants — in particular Alabama, which is projected to lose a House seat next year.