A federal appeals court has blocked the Trump administration’s latest effort to end the census early, but there’s still no firm deadline for finishing the count, furthering the confusion that has hampered efforts in Chicago to reach undercounted areas in communities of color.
On Wednesday, a federal appeals court decided to let stand a preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration from shutting down the census count early. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that stopping the Census Bureau’s count now “risks undermining” its mission.
“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,” wrote Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson, a Clinton appointee, for the majority. Judge Morgan Christen, an Obama appointee, joined Rawlinson in the ruling.
The panel called the planned speedup “hasty and unexplained.”
The coronavirus outbreak severely disrupted the census count this year. The Census Bureau, which is part of the Department of Commerce, had to suspend field operations in March, and when the agency resumed, it was unable to recruit enough temporary employees to work in the field.
Early on in the pandemic, there was widespread agreement that the count would have to be extended into next year. The legal deadline for getting the results to the president is Dec. 31. The Census Bureau asked Congress to extend the deadline to the end of April 2021. The House approved the extension. The Senate has not yet done so.
With no extension in place, the Trump administration argued that field operations had to end a month early to get the census to the president by the legal deadline. The count is used for various federal decisions, including apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College.
In early August, a “senior Department (of Commerce) official” in the Trump administration changed course and ordered the bureau to complete its fieldwork and data collection by Sept. 30.
A group of civil rights groups and local governments challenged the speedup. A federal district judge last month blocked it, saying the Trump administration knew that suspending operations a month early would lead to an inaccurate count.
The next day, the administration appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit. This week, the administration tweeted yet another schedule change as it waited for an answer from the appeals court: Oct. 5 was now the “target date” for ending the count.
The judge has said it appears the new date violates her order and she has scheduled a hearing Friday. In the meantime, the counting is to continue with no firm deadline.
Groups in Chicago say they are working on the assumption that Oct 5 will be the end, and they are instructing residents to fill out census forms immediately and be included in a count that will determine Illinois’ representation in Congress, as well as the state’s and city’s share of billions of dollars in federal aid over the next 10 years.
Statewide, the self-response rate has already surpassed 2010 levels at just over 70%. But rates in Chicago continue to hover around 60%, with some neighborhoods reporting rates as low as 30%. Some of the city’s lowest rates are in neighborhoods such as Back of the Yards, West Englewood, Little Village and North Lawndale, all areas that have struggled with poverty and a lack of resources.
The Trump administration has said it wants to exclude immigrants without documentation from being included in the count. President Donald Trump issued a memorandum ordering the change in July, but a federal court in New York blocked it this month. Trump has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 9th Circuit will continue to consider the government’s appeal of the district court’s decision. The government may appeal the panel’s decision within the 9th Circuit or ask the Supreme Court to intervene.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department could not be immediately reached for comment.
Maura Dolan at the Los Angeles Times contributed.
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