A national coalition of local governments, including Los Angeles, has secured a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its decision to cut short the timeline for the 2020 U.S. Census count, but L.A.’s city attorney said Friday the battle is not over.
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. The injunction replaces a temporary restraining order which was set to expire this week.
City Attorney Mike Feuer told reporters Friday in Los Angeles that the Trump administration had already filed a motion 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 will be upheld because it was so “thorough and well-reasoned.”
“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,” 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.”
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.
As of Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the Los Angeles region’s response rate to the census was at 57.5% — far below the last census count in 2010 when 68% of residents responded, and below this year’s state average of 65%.
Garcetti called Koh’s ruling a “victory” for fairness in obtaining the resources and representation that Los Angeles needs.
“Our fight for fairness is not over,” Garcetti said. “We reached this point thanks to City Attorney Mike Feuer’s leadership, but we now need Congress to act swiftly on the recently introduced bipartisan legislation to remove any further confusion about remaining census operations. No matter what happens in Washington, the people of L.A. will never back down to fear tactics or threats of intimidation.”
Garcetti said the Los Angeles census team has made more than 144,000 phone calls to hard-to-count regions in the city and has hosted many census-related events.
The order by Koh 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.”
Los Angeles was joined in filing the lawsuit by the League of Women Voters of the United States, National Urban League, Black Alliance for Immigration, the cities of Salinas and San Jose, and Harris County, Texas, Court Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia.
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,” he said.
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 said her ruling is likely to be upheld because the shortened census schedule decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”
Before ending a virtual hearing on Tuesday, Koh noted that the administration had already signaled it was preparing to appeal even before she issued her ruling.
When Department of Justice attorney Aleks Sverdlov attempted to push back in the hearing’s last minutes, the judge had heard enough.
“Go ahead and appeal me,” Koh said.
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