U.S. DISTRICT COURT RULES THAT CENSUS MUST NOT BE RUSHED
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California last night issued an order blocking the Trump administration’s attempts to rush the 2020 Census to a close while a legal challenge to that plan plays out in the courts.
The court’s order preliminarily enjoins the Census Bureau and Secretary of Commerce from using a September 30, 2020 deadline for the completion of data collection and a December 31, 2020 deadline for processing and then reporting the census count to the President.
Under the Court’s Order, the census count will continue through October 31, as the Census Bureau had earlier planned, and its data processing will continue under a timeline that allows for a full, fair and accurate overall tabulation and reporting of the total population to the President.
District Judge Lucy H. Koh issued her ruling after a hearing Tuesday afternoon in National Urban League et al. v. Wilbur L. Ross Jr. et al., the lawsuit filed by civil rights groups, civil organizations, and tribal and local governments on August 18 to block the administration’s attempt to rush census operations to a close by September 30 and send population numbers for apportionment to the President by December 31. The plaintiffs sought to stop the Trump administration’s plan to force the Census Bureau to shorten the 2020 count against the judgment of the bureau’s own expert staff and in the middle of a pandemic.
The court had already issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the administration from shutting down its census operations while the court prepared the ruling it issued today.
The COVID-19 pandemic posed new challenges to the decennial census, including massive displacements of people, just as the count was getting underway. It upended all census field operations and undermined outreach to populations that the bureau has long struggled to count, including racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, and undocumented persons.
Bureau officials requested an extension of census data collection, processing, and reporting deadlines to accommodate a COVID-19 plan that President Trump publicly supported, and spent multiple months acting on that plan. But on August 3, Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham abruptly announced that the data-collection would stop on September 30, a full month short of the time census officials had previously said was necessary to complete the count.
The lawsuit argues that the Trump administration’s new, accelerated census timeline cuts a crucial four weeks from the actual count and four months from the time for processing and reporting the data used to apportion the U.S. House of Representatives. The abrupt change disregards the bureau’s own plans for dealing with the hardships imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also undermine the quality and accuracy of the census as well as produce a massive undercount of communities of color.
The lawsuit argues that the administration’s attempts to rush the census to a close pose a grave threat to the vital functions that rely on census data, from reapportioning the House of Representatives and redrawing state and local electoral districts to equitably distributing over $1.5 trillion annually in federal funds that support basic needs like education, food, and health care.
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