Trump administration tries again to stop census count with Supreme Court

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By Patrick Forrest

The Trump administration has filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to allow them to end the 2020 Census early. In an emergency request Wednesday, October 7, Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall calls on the Census Bureau to immediately stop all field operations. The request comes following the target date of October 5 passing with many citizen or census responses having not been counted.

“With October 5 having come and gone while the Court of Appeals was considering the stay application,” Wall wrote, “every passing day exacerbates the serious risk that the District Court’s order to continue field operations and delay post processing will make it impossible for the Bureau to comply with the December 31 statutory reporting deadline.”

The filing lists multiple plaintiffs, including the National Urban League, League of Women Voters, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, along with the cities of Los Angeles, San Jose and Chicago.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that missing the December 31 reporting deadline “would likely not invalidate” the census numbers delivered to the President. The judges ruled that the count must continue through October 31, and also allowed for an extension through an act of Congress citing such activity in 1810 and 1840.

“Perhaps the Bureau will find that with an extraordinary effort or changes in processing capacity, it is able to meet its deadline,” the judges wrote. “Or the Department of Commerce may seek and receive a deadline extension from Congress. Or perhaps the Bureau will miss the deadline, as statement after statement by everyone from agency officials to the President has stated it would, due to the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic.”

The government hopes that the Supreme Court will rule in their favor following the partial judgment and argue that the two decisions made by the Appeals Court contradict each other. The 9th Circuit Court did allow for the Court to attempt to meet the December 31 deadline, noting that it is wary of courts ordering a federal agency to miss a deadline required by law.

“As a factual matter, the partial stay will still require the government to violate the statutory deadline,” Wall wrote. “And as a legal matter, it is irreconcilable with the District Court’s rationale for issuing any injunction in the first place.”

Despite the argument made by the Acting Solicitor General, the Census Bureau’s associate director for the 2020 census, Al Fontenot, has previously given sworn statements that even if field operations for the census continue past October 5, the Bureau is not likely to produce “a complete and accurate census” by December 31 because of time needed to process all of the data.

Despite much of the concern, statistics released by the Census Bureau in 25 states, including both Illinois and Indiana, the counts are nearly complete, with their total response rates at or above 99.9%. Eight additional states are at 99.8% complete. Only six states remain below 99% complete, with five of those above 98%.

“We thank our nearly 400,000 national and community partners, all working as trusted voices to encourage people to respond, either with their neighborhood census taker, online, over the phone, or on paper,” said Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham. “Please join us in urging every household to respond when a census taker visits or to respond online at 2020Census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020, or by mail.”

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