Federal Judge Blocks Trump Admin’s Efforts To Shorten Time For U.S. Census Count

The latest move from the Trump admin. was to cut short the census count a month early, alarming fair count advocates.

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A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to stop an attempt to end counting efforts early, which several Trump administration officials ordered. The order comes amid scrutiny that shortening the window of collection could have drastic effects for communities of color as well as future elections. 

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh issued a temporary restraining order on Saturday blocking officials including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham from “winding down or altering any Census field operations” until a court hearing on September 17. In August, the Trump administration announced that all counting nationwide would end September 30, a full month earlier than expected.

Several cities, counties and civil rights groups are listed as plaintiffs in the order, including League of Women Voters and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. CNN reported that other lawsuits regarding census counting are pending in courts across the country.

In the order, Koh, a judge in the Northern District of California, stated that plaintiffs are concerned that "each day that the Census does not conduct its field operations to reach and count hard-to-reach populations increases the inaccuracy of the Census count and thus increases their irreparable harm."

The U.S. Census, which only occurs once every decade, determines how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding is allocated for programs including Medicaid, Head Start and block grants for community mental health services — so getting an accurate count is crucial. It also determines the distribution of congressional seats and Electoral College votes.

Following the ruling, the Bureau sent a message to its field operations leadership, saying, “The Census Bureau and the Commerce Department are obligated to comply with the Court’s Order and are taking immediate steps to do so.”
Census data collection was originally scheduled to conclude August 15, but in April it was extended until October 31 to account for delays created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Associated Press reported that the Census Bureau also asked Congress to extend the deadline for turning in the apportionment numbers from December 2020 to the following spring (apportionment numbers determine the number of seats in the House of Representatives each state gets, based on population).

“When the Republican-controlled Senate failed to take up the request, the bureau was forced to create a revised schedule that had the census ending in September, according to the statistical agency,” the AP report continued. 

The bureau then announced in August that it would conclude counting at the end of September, alarming fair count advocates. Director Dillingham said at the time that an updated plan would be revised “to accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts by our statutory deadline of December 31, 2020, as required by law and directed by the Secretary of Commerce.” 

But many have noted that shortening the collection time for the census would prevent some of the most vulnerable communities from being counted.

NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang, who covers the 2020 census, also noted in August that keeping with the December deadline would guarantee that President Trump will receive the census numbers while still in office, even if he is not reelected.

“With little authority, Trump is seeking to change those numbers by attempting to exclude unauthorized immigrants despite the Constitution's requirement to include the "whole number of persons in each state," Wang said. There is no question regarding immigration status in the current census questionnaire.

The administration’s efforts to shorten the collection window didn’t only draw backlash from the listed plaintiffs. In an August statement, four former Census Bureau directors warned that not extending reporting deadlines “will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country."