Shared from the 10/3/2020 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition

Judge’s order: Census count must continue

Frustrated by the Trump administration’s disregard of her orders prohibiting an early shutdown of the 2020 census, a federal judge is directing the government to send every census taker in the country a message that the population count will continue through Oct. 31.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of San Jose had issued a nationwide injunction Sept. 24 barring the Census Bureau from carrying out its recently announced plan to end census-taking on Sept. 30, a month ahead of its previous schedule. She cited evidence from Census Bureau officials that the speedup would make the count less accurate.

But four days later, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, issued a new order to shut down operations on Oct. 5. That was unacceptable, Koh said in a new order late Thursday.

The government’s latest action violates her injunction and “risks further undermining trust in the bureau and its partners, sowing more confusion and depressing census participation,” Koh said.

She ordered the Census Bureau to immediately send text messages to all of its employees telling them that the Oct. 5 shutdown date was “not operative” and that census-taking must continue through Oct. 31. Any further violations will lead to contempt-of-court proceedings against government officials, Koh said.

The Census Bureau said it sent the court-ordered messages on Friday informing employees of the Oct. 31 date and telling them to “continue to work diligently and enumerate as many people as possible.”

The ruling sends a “strong and unambiguous message that the bureau must continue counting until Oct. 31 to give all of us the full, fair and accurate census we deserve and that is guaranteed under law,” said attorney Thomas Wolf of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which represents civil rights groups and local governments that sued the Census Bureau.

The once-per-decade census determines each state’s number of seats in the House of Representatives and is used by federal officials to apportion $1.5 trillion in funds per year. Opponents of the Trump administration’s shortened schedule said it would particularly reduce population counts in lowincome and minority areas.

After the coronavirus outbreak, the Census Bureau announced a schedule in April that would run through Oct.

31. But on Aug. 3, bureau officials said they would halt work on Sept. 30 in order to meet a legal deadline to deliver census results to the president by Dec. 31.

The bureau said the shortened schedule would not affect accuracy. But Koh, in her Sept. 24 injunction, said a bureau official had issued a memo less than two weeks earlier finding that the speedup would lead to a census of “unacceptable quality.” She also said the bureau’s reports showed it had only 38% of the census takers it needed for a full count.

Census takers from across the country have been sending the court a “slew of emails” reporting that their supervisors were misstating the courtordered deadlines, Koh said. She quoted one message, from Sept. 29, that said, “In the last few days we have been under strict instructions to close down remaining cases by whatever means necessary.”

Documents also suggest that the administration may not be including undocumented immigrants in the census, despite court orders to do so, Koh said. She said one internal memo asked whether census takers were required to count immigrants held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has about 40,000 migrants in custody awaiting possible deportation hearings.

President Trump’s order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census was rejected Sept. 10 by a federal court panel in New York, which said it violated a legal requirement to include “the whole number of persons in each state.” The administration has appealed to the Supreme Court.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BobEgelko

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