Trump Administration Appeals Order That Extends Census Counting Through Oct. 31

Updated Friday at 2:43 p.m. ET

The Trump administration is appealing a federal court order that calls for it to abandon last-minute changes to the 2020 census schedule and extend the time for counting for an additional month.

The preliminary injunction issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California requires the Census Bureau to keep trying to tally the country’s residents through Oct. 31.

The Justice Department filed a notice Friday that they are appealing that order to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, further complicating what could be the final days of counting for this year’s census.

The move is the latest development in a federal lawsuit over the administration’s decision to shorten the timeline for the national head count.

Koh found that the administration’s truncated census schedule is likely to produce inaccurate numbers about historically undercounted groups, including people of color and immigrants. That, in turn, would harm the constitutional purpose of the count — to redistribute the seats in the House of Representatives among the states based on their latest populations.The judge also found that the challengers in the lawsuit — a coalition of groups led by the National Urban League — are ultimately likely to succeed in the lawsuit by arguing that the administration’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

In response to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the administration had previously called for more time for the once-a-decade census and asked Congress to pass four-month extensions to the legal deadlines for reporting results.

But in July, the administration changed its position with no public explanation. The Census Bureau’s director, Steven Dillingham, later confirmed that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the bureau, had directed it to speed up all counting efforts to end by Sept. 30 — a month earlier than the bureau had planned — in order to deliver the first set of results to President Trump, as federal law requires, by the end of this year.

Congress has yet to pass any laws to extend the census reporting deadlines, although a bipartisan group of senators recently introduced a bill with extensions.

Justice Department attorneys have attempted to present speeding up the count as a way for the Census Bureau to meet the Dec. 31 legal deadline for reporting results in light of Congress not giving the bureau more time.

Koh noted, however, that explanation “runs counter to the facts.”

“Those facts show not only that the Bureau could not meet the statutory deadline, but also that the Bureau had received pressure from the Commerce Department to cease seeking an extension of the deadline,” the judge wrote in the order, which cites multiple internal emails and other documents the administration was required to release for the lawsuit.

Top career officials at the bureau warned as early as May that because of COVID-19, the bureau could no longer meet the Dec. 31 reporting deadline for the latest state population counts.

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Hansi Lo Wang