Trump Administration Fails in Effort to Shorten Deadline
By D. Kevin McNeir
Executive Editor, New Jersey Urban News
The Census Bureau has been ordered to comply with a recent Court order and continue their Nonresponse Follow-up Operation for the 2020 census through Oct. 31.
The ruling, announced Thursday, Sept. 24, becomes the second time in the last 15 months in which federal courts have scrutinized rationales provided by the Trump administration to circumvent key elements of the 2020 census and found them unpersuasive.
In the first effort in June 2019, the Trump administration sought to add a question about citizenship to the census as a means of enforcing the Voting Rights Act to which the Supreme Court described as “contrived.”
This time, a federal district judge in California ruled that the Commerce Department had “never articulated a satisfactory explanation” for its decision to end the census months earlier than had been planned.
However, despite Thursday’s decision blocking the administration’s plan for a shortened census, some experts say Trump’s plan will inevitably continue to pave the way for yet another political crisis.
Scholars say the administration’s effort to take advantage of its power over the census to advance its agenda is largely unprecedented in modern times, where the national count has been valued for its accuracy and nonpartisanship.
“Judges and civil servants have generally done a good job of safeguarding democratic institutions and procedures that are specifically grounded in law or, as in the case of the census, in the Constitution,” said Larry Bartels, a Vanderbilt University political science professor. “They are less well-equipped to safeguard informal norms.”
Trump, he said, “has accelerated a decades-long process of political leaders pushing against norms that were thought to be enforced by public opinion and finding those safeguards pretty toothless.”
In her ruling on Thursday, Judge Lucy H. Koh of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction preventing the administration from winding down the count by Sept. 30 – a month earlier than the scheduled completion date of Oct. 31. In addition, she barred officials from delivering completed population data to the White House on Dec. 31 rather than the April 2021 delivery date that had previously been established.
Judge Koh, who had temporarily stayed the early completion of the census count on Sept. 5, said an earlier deadline for the count would lead to a census that could not meet constitutional standards for accuracy.
Census officials have pointed to challenges which include a coronavirus pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes and a surging distrust of the federal government.
However, the Justice Department said on Friday that it would appeal Judge Koh’s ruling on the census schedule in efforts to keep the count deadline shortened in order to meet the Dec. 31 deadline. If successful, it would pave the way for a heated battle over the population numbers that Trump would send to the House for use in reapportionment before his term ends.
The Census Bureau traditionally has the responsibility to devise the numerical formulas for reapportionment. But under Trump’s plan, two sets of data would be used: a population count and an estimate of unauthorized immigrants.
Justice Department attorneys have sought to prove that shortening the time for the count would allow the Census Bureau to meet the Dec. 31 legal deadline for reporting results since Congress has not given the bureau additional time. Koh, however, said that rationale “runs counter to the facts.”
An analysis conducted by the bureau has illustrated that a shortened deadline could increase the risk of serious errors in the results – numbers used to determine the distribution of an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal money to local communities for Medicare, Medicaid and other public services.

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