A federal judge in California has temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s effort to cut short the 2020 census, which critics say is a cynical attempt to undercount communities of color.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California issued the order in response to a challenge by a coalition of civil rights, local government and Native American groups, which filed an emergency request as part of a federal lawsuit.
Koh ruled that the order is needed because the challengers are likely to suffer “irreparable harm” from a truncated census count. The census results are used to determine the distribution of political representation and federal funding among states and local communities for the next decade.
“Because the decennial census is at issue here, an inaccurate count would not be remedied for another decade, which would affect the distribution of federal and state funding, the deployment of services, and the allocation of local resources for a decade,” the judge wrote.
The order is expected to remain in effect until a court hearing on Sept. 17 when the coalition will argue for census counting to continue through the end of October, as the Census Bureau initially planned, NPR reported Saturday.
“To cease census operations earlier than set out in the Bureau’s own COVID-19 census plan with full awareness that tribal nations, the most undercounted population in the 2010 census, are also the most impacted coronavirus demographic, is a breach of the governmental relationship that exists between the federal government and tribal nations,” said a statement earlier this week by Stephen Roe Lewis, the governor of the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona.
“This federal government would knowingly be ensuring that much-needed tribal programs would be significantly cut because of the conditions created by the pandemic and the interruption of census operations,” he added.
The Census Bureau originally had planned to extend the count through October to make up for delays caused by COVID-19. After publicly supporting the timeline extension, the Trump administration in August suddenly moved up the date to the end of September.
“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,” Thomas Wolf, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice who is helping to represent the plaintiffs, said in a statement.