(SAN FRANCISCO) – The Trump administration’s last-minute move to terminate 2020 census operations would likely lead to a massive undercount of millions of people in the United States – many of them African-American, immigrants and other people of color – a federal court judge ruled today when she granted a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit filed against Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.
The lawsuit was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Urban League, the Brennan Center for Justice, Latham & Watkins, LLP and Public Counsel, on behalf of the NAACP, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Navajo Nation, Gila River Indian Community, the League of Women Voters, the city of Chicago, the city of Houston, Harris County, Texas, King County, Washington, the city of Salinas and San Jose, California, and Los Angeles County, Calif., to block the Trump Administration’s plan to force the Census Bureau to cut the 2020 Census count short.
“The court rightfully recognized the Trump administration’s attempted short-circuiting of our nation’s census as an imminent threat to the completion of a fair and accurate process,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “President Trump and Secretary Ross’ decisions to undermine the process may have deprived vulnerable communities of fair representation and fair allocation of funds for the next 10 years or more.”
District Judge Lucy Koh ruled after considering a temporary restraining order filed by the plaintiffs last Thursday. Lawyers for the government recently revealed that the Census Bureau had begun stopping the census count, well ahead of the end of September.
“We appreciate the Court’s swift action to issue a Temporary Restraining Order as we proceed towards the September 17 hearing on the preliminary injunction,” said Melissa Sherry, partner, at the law firm of Latham & Watkins, LLP. “Ensuring that the count continues during this period is of critical importance to ensure the accuracy of the 2020 Census, and we look forward to addressing the need to further extend the count at that upcoming hearing.”
“Today’s ruling is a necessary and encouraging first step toward saving the 2020 Census from a massive undercount that will disproportionately affect our country’s communities of color,” said Thomas Wolf, senior counsel and Spitzer Fellow with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “The 2020 Census needs more time than the Trump administration is offering if we are going to get the full, fair, and accurate count that the Constitution guarantees. Today’s ruling buys the census some precious and indispensable time by barring the administration from shutting down the count while the federal courts are still considering our request for relief.”
The basis for the judge’s decision was that plaintiffs have raised serious questions about the constitutionality and lawfulness of the Census Bureau’s decision to rescind the COVID-19 operational plan and institute an alternative that would cut enumeration and non-response follow-up activities by a month and cut data analyses by 2 months. The court believes those actions would irreparably injure the plaintiffs in this case if the order was not granted. The latter was based on a finding in an affidavit from a Census Bureau official Al Fontenot Jr., who had said that it would be impossible to resuscitate activities if the court acted later in the month.
The groups’ original lawsuit ties the bureau’s reversal to President Trump’s issuance of an executive memorandum issued earlier this summer which seeks to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment numbers that determine states’ seats in the House of Representatives.
The Trump administration’s attempted abrupt change flouts the census bureau’s own plans for dealing with the hardships imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, undermining the quality and accuracy of the census as well as guaranteeing a substantial undercount of communities of color.
Read the order here.