Civil rights organizations and local governments in California late Friday filed a request in a San Jose federal court for an emergency nationwide injunction against the Trump administration’s effort to end 2020 Census counting prematurely—a move critics warn is a blatant effort by the president and his Republican allies to “sabotage” the once-in-a-decade count for long-term political advantage.
“Trump seeks to sabotage the #2020Census by TERMINATING critical door knocking operations and other efforts one month early,” declared Kristen Clark, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, in a Friday night tweet. “Given the pandemic, this will undermine efforts to secure a full and fair count, especially of communities of color. We are in court TONIGHT fighting back!”
The groups behind the injunction request—which included the Lawyers Committee, the National Urban League, the League of Women Voters, and local governments including San Jose and Los Angeles—mobilized this week to prevent a truncated count by the Census Bureau after the release of an internal document (pdf) warned that a rushed census—itself would be a statutory violation—could create “serious errors” in the crucial data that helps determine allocation of federal resources and the drawing of legislative districts over the next ten years.
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“For months, advocates have been sounding the alarm that an accurate census in every state is on the line,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a statement earlier this week. “Census Bureau experts have been clear: rushing the 2020 Census will force the bureau to cut corners while counting people, processing data, and doing quality checks—forcing undercounts in communities across the country and skewing census data for a decade. There’s no reason not to give the Census Bureau the time and flexibility it requested to navigate COVID-19 and complete a high-quality census. An accurate 2020 Census is in Congress’ hands, and lawmakers have to act fast.”
During court proceedings carried out virtually Friday night, the attorney representing the various groups in California, Melissa Sherry, told U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh that an injunction was the only way to prevent the irreparable the Trump administration is on the verge of causing by ending door-to-door Census counting and other crucial operations.
“We need them to keep sending people out to houses, especially during the pandemic,” Sherry said to the judge. “Every day we lose, we’re not going to be able to get back.”
According to Bob Egelko at the The San Francisco Chronicle, “Koh expressed concern about the government’s changing explanations for its actions, but did not announce a decision at the end of the hearing” and “asked both sides to return to court on Tuesday.”
In a filing on behalf of the Trump administration, Justice Department attorney Alexander Sverdlov argued to the court that the injunction was “not warranted” and that the Trump administration’s decision-making around how it conducts the count amount to “unreviewable political questions.”
As Egelko reports:
The population count is crucial for states’ U.S. House representation and the distribution of $800 billion in federal aid each year. Separately, President Trump is seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census, an action challenged by California and other states in multiple lawsuits.
The Census Bureau announced Aug. 3 that it would end the nationwide survey on Sept. 30, a month ahead of the previous schedule, in order to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for submitting the data. The announcement brought protests and lawsuits from civil rights groups and local governments that fear short-counting in areas with large numbers of poor people, minorities and immigrants.
Named in the injunction is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, charged with overseeing the Census Bureau. In addition to the civil rights groups and local governments, nearly two dozen state attorneys general are backing the effort to make sure the Trump administration does not curtail or harm the count in any way.
“The Trump administration continues to show a blatant disregard for the federal government’s obligations under the Constitution, which includes properly compiling our nation’s population via the Census count,” said Michigan Attorney Dana Nessel, part of that state AG coalition, said Friday. “Fighting a pandemic is already a high hurdle to clear in obtaining an accurate count. It’s outrageous that we must also fight against an administration seeking to skew our population numbers.”