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Federal court rebuffs Trump administration’s efforts to accelerate census deadlines

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Washington — A federal appeals court in California on Wednesday rejected a request from the Trump administration to allow it to accelerate deadlines for completing the 2020 census.

A divided three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to lift a lower court’s injunction blocking the Census Bureau from proceeding with a September 30 deadline to stop field work and data collection for the decennial population count.

“Given the extraordinary importance of the census, it is imperative that the Bureau conduct the census in a manner that is most likely to produce a workable report in which the public can have confidence,” the court said. “The Bureau must account for its competing constitutional and statutory obligation to produce a fair and accurate census report. The hasty and unexplained changes to the Bureau’s operations continued in the Replan, created in just 4 to 5 days, risks undermining the Bureau’s mission.”

Judge Patrick Bumatay, appointed to the 9th Circuit by President Trump, dissented.

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The Census Bureau adopted in April a new census plan in response to the coronavirus pandemic that extended the deadline for each step in the census process. As part of the plan, the bureau expected to ask Congress for an additional 120 days, from December 31 to April, for reporting apportionment counts.

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But Congress did not act to extend the deadline for reporting the results to the president, and in early August, the Commerce Department directed the Census Bureau to draft a new plan that allowed for completion of the census by the December 31 statutory deadline. Under the new plan, adopted August 3, the deadline for completion of census field work and data collection was moved up from October 31 to September 30.

Late last month, a federal district court in California blocked the Trump administration from implementing the accelerated September 30 end date for field operations. The Justice Department then asked the 9th Circuit to lift the order.

The constitutionally mandated census helps determine how much communities receive in federal funding and the number of congressional seats each state receives. But the 2020 Census has become a political football as the Trump administration has attempted to make changes to this year’s population count.

In 2018, Mr. Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross attempted to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, but efforts to do so were rebuffed by the Supreme Court last year. The president also issued a directive in July instructing the Census Bureau to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment counts, though that plan has also been halted by federal judges.

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Last month, the Department of Commerce’s Office of the Inspector General found the decision to speed up the 2020 census schedule was not made by officials from the Census Bureau, and some speculated the decision likely came from the White House.

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