Federal Judge Suspends Trump Administration’s Census Deadlines

September 25, 2020 Updated: September 25, 2020

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that 2020 Census counting can continue through Oct. 31, blocking the Trump administration’s end-of-September deadline.

Judge Lucy Koh, ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, issued a preliminary injunction in the case, arguing in the decision documentation (pdf) that a shortened schedule would have an adverse impact on political representation and the distribution of federal funding.

The once-in-a-decade headcount is used to determine how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is allocated each year and how many congressional seats each state gets. Prior to the outbreak of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, data collection for the 2020 census was scheduled to end on Aug. 15. Due to challenges posed by the pandemic around field operations, it was extended to Oct. 31, but in early August, the Census Bureau announced it would move that deadline up to Sept. 30, arguing that it would otherwise be unable to meet a Dec. 31 statutory deadline for submitting the collected data to Congress. Koh’s injunction also suspends the Dec. 31 deadline.

Civil rights groups and local governments sued the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department, which oversees the agency, in a bid to halt the 2020 census from stopping at the end of the month. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the shortened schedule would overlook some residents in minority and hard-to-count communities, leading to an inaccurate count. They argued that “an inaccurate apportionment would violate their constitutional rights to representation” and that the plaintiffs would incur additional costs to mitigate the undercount.

Government attorneys argued that, if field operations for collecting census data are extended by another month, they will be unable to meet the end-of-the-year deadline for turning over the numbers.

Koh said in the ruling that, “the balance of hardships tips sharply in Plaintiffs’ favor,” and that an injunction is in the public interest.

“The hardship imposed on Defendants from a stay—missing a statutory deadline they had expected to miss anyway—would be significantly less than the hardship on Plaintiffs, who will suffer irreparable harm from an inaccurate census count,” Koh noted in the ruling.

Attorneys for the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department said during the hearing they would likely lodge an appeal.

President Donald Trump, in a presidential memorandum in July, sought to exclude illegal aliens from the apportionment base following the census, but a federal court in New York blocked that initiative. The memorandum did not change who would be counted in the 2020 census, which counts every person regardless of whether they are authorized to be in the United States or not, but it directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, to provide Trump with a second tally that excludes “aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status.”

That order followed a decision last year by the Supreme Court to block the administration’s plan to include a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census, which now does not inquire about immigration status.

Trump has long sought to curb illegal entry into the United States, including by pushing for his signature U.S.-Mexico border wall. Estimates as to the number of people living in the U.S. without legal authorization range from 10.5 million to 12 million, according to the Brookings Institute, with a Dec. 2018 report from the Department of Homeland Security (pdf) estimating that, in January 2015, there were 12 million illegal aliens residing in the country.

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