Groups ask for restraining order to stop census wind-down

FILE In this June 27, 2019, file photo, demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court as the justices finish the term with key decisions on gerrymandering and a census case involving an attempt by the Trump administration to ask everyone about their citizenship status in the 2020 census, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The U.S. Census Bureau has spent much of the past year defending itself against allegations that its duties have been overtaken by politics. With a failed attempt by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question, the hiring of three political appointees with limited experience to top positions, a sped-up schedule and a directive from President Donald Trump to exclude undocumented residents from the process of redrawing congressional districts, the 2020 census has descended into a high-stakes partisan battle. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (J. Scott Applewhite, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Days after the U.S. Census Bureau said that it had already taken steps to wind down operations for the 2020 census, a coalition of cities, counties and civil rights groups on Friday tried to stop the statistical agency in its tracks.

The coalition asked a federal judge in San Jose to issue a temporary restraining order stopping the Census Bureau from taking any further actions toward ending the once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident.

The coalition is asking a judge in a lawsuit to make the Census Bureau restore its previous deadline for finishing the census to the end of October, instead of using a revised plan to end operations at the end of September. Arguments aren't scheduled until the middle of the month.

“Every day that we lose, we are not going to be able to get it back," said Melissa Sherry, an attorney representing the coalition of plaintiffs during a virtual hearing.

The door-knocking phase of the 2020 didn't start for most of the U.S. until the beginning of August, so winding down operations in September will lead to an inaccurate count that overlooks minority communities, the plaintiffs said in a court filing. During the door-knocking phase, census takers go to households that haven't yet answered the census questionnaire online, by phone or by mail.

“We just didn’t think they would start dimming the lights right after they turned on the light switch," Sherry said.

The lawsuit contends the Census Bureau changed the schedule to accommodate a directive from President Donald Trump to exclude people in the country illegally from the numbers used in redrawing congressional districts, a process known as apportionment. More than a half dozen other lawsuits have been filed in tandem across the country, challenging Trump’s memorandum as unconstitutional and an attempt to limit the power of Latinos and immigrants of color during apportionment.

But an attorney for the federal government, Alexander Sverdlov, told U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh on Friday that any concerns about the bureau's revised plan are unwarranted. When a region reaches between 85% to 90% of households counted, its census takers are redirected to other areas that still need counting, Sverdlov said.

The problem isn't with the Census Bureau's revised plan but with an end-of-the year deadline to turn over numbers used for redrawing congressional districts, and Congress hasn't granted an extension that would allow the Census Bureau to end the count at the later date, Sverdlov said.

Koh didn't say when she would make a decision.

Meanwhile, top Democratic congressional leaders on Friday demanded that the Trump administration provide documents, emails, notes and calendar invitations that showed how the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department made the decision to end the 2020 census a month early.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham that they were concerned the schedule was compressed so that the apportionment count would be controlled by the Trump administration.

In the letter, Pelosi and Schumer recounted a meeting with Trump administration officials during negotiations over coronavirus-relief legislation in which they raised their concerns about the changed census schedule. The Democratic leaders showed administration officials a statement from four former Census Bureau directors who said it would be difficult to have a fair and accurate count with the compressed schedule. House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows responded, “the Democrats just want to control the apportionment and we aren't going to let them do that," according to Pelosi and Schumer.

“It appears that Mr. Meadows may have made the previously unspoken intentions of (the) President and his Administration clear: the White House was intervening to ensure President Trump would control the apportionment process while in office rather than ensuring an accurate count for the American people as required by the Constitution," Pelosi and Schumer said in the letter.


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