A national coalition of local governments, including Los Angeles, has secured a preliminary injunction in its lawsuit against the Trump administration over its decision to cut short the timeline for the 2020 U.S. Census count.
The preliminary injunction issued late Thursday by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California requires the Census Bureau to return to its original plan of counting people through Oct. 31.
In April, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its early stages and stay-at-home orders had been issued in certain regions across the nation, the Census Bureau announced it would extend the deadline for people to respond to Oct. 31. But on Aug. 3, the bureau shortened the deadline to Sept. 30.
“This injunction is a major victory in our fight for an accurate census count, which is crucial to fair political representation and the proper allocation of essential federal resources,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said. “The court saw through the Trump administration’s efforts to camouflage its political interference in what is supposed to be the neutral, nonpartisan process of counting every person. Now, with little time to lose and so much at stake, I urge everyone to take the few moments necessary to be included in the census.”
The preliminary injunction replaces a temporary restraining order which was set to expire this week, Feuer said.
As of Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the Los Angeles region’s response rate to the census was still less than 60% — far below the last census count in 2010 when 68% of residents responded, and below this year’s state average of 65%.
The League of Women Voters of the United States, National Urban League, Black Alliance for Immigration, cities of Salinas and San Jose, and Harris County, Texas, Court Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia joined Los Angeles in filing the lawsuit.
The order by Koh also requires the Census Bureau to allow 8 1/2 months of data collection and instead of the Aug. 3 plan of 4 1/2 months, which Feuer said would have resulted in an alarming population undercount.
The injunction essentially ties the Census Bureau to commit to its original plan from April.
“The administration, let’s be very clear, if it had … its way, would have had in place a plan that would have almost assured an undercount in hard-to-count places, like here in Los Angeles,” Feuer said.
Prior to filing the suit, Feuer issued a demand letter to the U.S. Census Bureau seeking confirmation that it was changing direction and implementing the rushed plan instead of the COVID-19 plan.
Feuer said four former U.S. Census directors told him the compressed timeline would “result in seriously incomplete enumeration in many areas across our country.”
According to the order, Koh found that the Trump administration’s shortened census schedule is likely to result in an inaccurate count in places that are historically hard to reach, including communities with many people of color and immigrants.
Koh also said her ruling is likely to be upheld because the shortened census schedule decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”
Without an accurate census count, millions of dollars in federal funding and the Los Angeles representation in Congress are threatened, Feuer said.
“Interestingly, there are now bipartisan bills whose support is growing each day that are pending on the floor of each house that ideally would achieve the same goals we’re seeking through this litigation,” Feuer said.
During a news conference Friday, Feuer said the Trump administration had already filed a motion earlier in the day to block the court’s ruling. An appeals court could take up the matter any day now, he said.
Feuer said he is “confident” that even if the ruling goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, it would be upheld because it was so “thorough and well-reasoned.”
According to NPR, before ending a virtual hearing on Tuesday, Koh noted that the administration had already signaled it was preparing to appeal even before the judge issued her latest ruling.
When Department of Justice attorney Aleks Sverdlov attempted to push back in the hearing’s last minutes, the judge had heard enough, NPR reported.
“Go ahead and appeal me,” Koh said, according to the station.