The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to intervene and allow it to wrap up the 2020 census by blocking a lower court opinion requiring the count to continue until the end of October.
The administration asked the high court for “immediate relief” because the trial court order will prevent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from delivering an important count of the nation’s population “to the President by December 31, 2020, a statutory deadline that the district court also enjoined.”
“In addition to disregarding the statutory deadline, the district court disregarded the Bureau’s successful efforts to ensure that the 2020 census will reach levels of accuracy and completeness comparable to other recent censuses while still meeting the deadline,” the administration wrote in its Supreme Court appeal.
The appeal comes hours after an appellate court gave the administration more leeway in how it conducts the census but also found that the National Urban League and other groups suing the administration had a good chance of winning.
Their lawsuit accuses the administration of improperly deciding in August to shorten the census count by more than a month after rolling out a controversial policy — which is currently being blocked, and also is on appeal to the Supreme Court — to exclude undocumented immigrants when dividing seats in the US House of Representatives among between the states.
The coronavirus pandemic took hold in the US as the Census Bureau reached a critical point in its once-a-decade count of the nation’s population that is used to determine congressional representation, presidential votes in the Electoral College and billions annually in federal spending. Census officials suspended the critical field work to knock on the doors of households that had not responded.
Census officials said publicly this summer that meeting the December 31 deadline would be impossible while also producing an accurate count. President Donald Trump called for Congress to provide the Census Bureau extra time — even more than the additional four months the administration officially proposed.
Then in late July and early August, Ross directed Census officials to come up with a plan to condense the door knocking operation, shorten the number-crunching process, and meet the December 31 deadline. Officials warned in internal emails reviewed by CNN that such a count would be of tally of “unacceptable quality” with “fatal flaws” and carry the stain of “politically manipulated results.”
In one email, Ross asked if a shortened schedule would allow the numbers to be produced during Trump’s presidency. That suggested a concern that Republican leadership, rather than a potential Joe Biden presidency, make determinations over who is counted, while also risking a significant undercount of the population in as many as 10 states.
Federal Judge Lucy Koh ruled that plan was not well-reasoned and ordered the count to continue past September 30. She then blocked Ross’ subsequent plan to conclude counting in early October, calling it an “egregious violation” of her earlier order and considering finding Ross in contempt of her directives.
Attorneys representing the National Urban League-led coalition suing the administration on Wednesday applauded the appellate court ruling that upheld much of Koh’s order and have not yet responded to the request that the Supreme Court take up the case.