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Press Release

Civil Rights Groups, Civic Organizations, and Local Governments Sue to Stop Trump's Rushed Census Timeline

Last-minute upending of the Census Bureau’s pandemic plan imperils the accuracy of the count.

August 12, 2020
Contact: Mireya Navarro, Media Contact, mireya.navarro@nyu.edu, 646-925-8760

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 18, 2020

 

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – Civil rights groups, civic organizations, and local governments today filed a legal challenge in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California to block the Trump administration’s plan forcing the Census Bureau to shorten the 2020 Census count, against the judgment of the Bureau’s expert staff and in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic. The lawsuit ties the administration’s “Rush Plan” to the president’s policy directive issued earlier this summer that seeks to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment numbers that determine states’ seats in the House of Representatives.

“Both the text of the Rush Plan announcement and the timing of the decision suggest that the federal government’s motivation for the Rush Plan is to facilitate another illegal act: suppressing the political power of communities of color by excluding undocumented people from the final apportionment count,” the lawsuit states. “To increase the chance that the President can execute this directive, he must receive the population totals while he is still in office.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are membership and advocacy organizations, counties, cities, and individuals whose communities will almost certainly be inaccurately represented and underrepresented in the final census count if the administration succeeds in ending the 2020 Census data collection and processing prematurely. They are the National Urban League, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the League of Women Voters, Harris County in Texas, King County in Washington, the cities of Los Angeles, San Jose, and Salinas (California), and Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia of the Harris County Commissioners Court.

The suit names as defendants the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau, along with their heads, Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.

The lawsuit argues that the Trump administration’s new, accelerated census timeline cuts a crucial four weeks from the actual count and four months from the time for processing and reporting the data used to apportion the U.S. House of Representatives. The abrupt change disregards the bureau’s own plans for dealing with the hardships imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also undermine the quality and accuracy of the census as well as potentially produce a massive undercount of communities of color.

The lawsuit seeks to have the court declare the decision to scuttle the census COVID-19 plan unlawful because it violates the Enumeration Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act. 

The suit asks the court to the keep the 2020 Census on the schedule proposed by census officials in April in response to COVID-19. Under that plan, the bureau would complete the census, including door-knocking, by October 31, 2020, and deliver apportionment numbers to the president by April 30, 2021. Redistricting data would be reported to the states by July 31, 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic imposed daunting new challenges to the decennial census just as the count was getting underway, including massive displacements of people. It upended all census field operations and undermined outreach to populations that the bureau has long struggled to count, including racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, and undocumented persons.

Bureau officials requested an extension of census data collection, processing, and reporting deadlines to accommodate a COVID-19 plan that President Trump himself publicly supported. But on August 3, after months spent following their COVID-19 plan, Ross and Dillingham abruptly announced the census’s data-collection would stop September 30, a full month short of the time census officials had previously said was necessary to complete the count.

The lawsuit argues that the administration’s attempts to rush the census to a close pose a grave threat to the vital functions that rely on census data, from reapportioning the United States House of Representatives and redrawing state and local electoral districts to equitably distributing over $1.5 trillion annually in federal funds that support basic needs like education, food, and health care.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Latham & Watkins, LLP, Public Counsel, the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney and the Office of the Salinas City Attorney.

The National Urban League is a civil-rights organization with over 90 affiliates serving 300 communities in 37 states and the District of Columbia. The League of Women Voters, an organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, has more than 800 state and local affiliates, located in all 50 states. Black Alliance for Just Immigration, with offices in California, Florida, Georgia, and New York, is the nation’s largest Black-led organization championing racial justice and immigrant rights.

Read the complaint here.

View the case page here.

 

The following comments are from:

Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League

“We’re not going to allow the American people to be cheated out of a fair and accurate census count because politics has infected the process. The Trump administration has openly worked to drive down minority participation in the census to give less representation to more diverse states, and now is rushing the deadline so that the data can be manipulated to exclude immigrants, in defiance of the Constitution, before legislative districts are drawn.”

Sam Liccardo, Mayor, City of San Jose

“It is up to those of us who believe in the Constitution, under which every person counts, to ensure that a fair and accurate census is conducted in this country. Even in this most unusual moment, it is outrageous that a U.S. President would seek to undermine the census, or any other foundational element of our Constitution, and we cannot normalize these assaults on our institutions. In San Jose and cities throughout the nation, we will fight to defend this basic principle of human rights.”

Nana Gyamfi, Executive Director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration

"The Trump administration's order shortening the time to complete the Census from October 31 to September 30 is yet another example of this administration’s rogue and racist decisions intended to deprive Black communities of resources and execute a redistricting scheme that supports and perpetuates white supremacy. The extension was granted in recognition of COVID-19 and its impact on outreach and capacity to get an accurate count. This manipulative order to shorten the time will result in a significant undercount of Black folks, including Black immigrants. We will continue to make sure our community members are counted in the census even as we oppose this latest attack by this administration."

Mike Feuer, Los Angeles City Attorney, Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney

 “We’re suing to block the Trump Administration from unconstitutionally abandoning a plan to obtain an accurate census in the midst of a devastating pandemic. From political representation to crucial public funding, every L.A. resident has so much riding on a full, fair, and complete count. The administration’s abrupt, inexplicable, and unlawful reversal would harm Angelenos for the next decade. It must not stand.”

Dr. Deborah Turner, President, Board of Directors, League of Women Voters of the United States

“The government’s Census timeline shift is another attempt to obstruct full enumeration of America’s people. States and municipalities rely on an accurate Census count to ensure adequate funding of basic necessities for all Americans: critical infrastructure, schools, hospitals, social services. COVID presents a severe disruption to this vital counting process, and our government should be prioritizing plans that allow the Census Bureau to finish their work, not making last-minute changes designed to inhibit the process.” 

Thomas Wolf,  Senior Counsel and Spitzer Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law

“The Trump administration’s snap decision to rush the 2020 Census to a close in the face of a worsening pandemic and in violation of the Bureau’s own expert judgment is both unjustified and unjustifiable. The decision runs counter to common sense and constitutional law, discarding the Census Bureau’s duty to ensure a full, fair, accurate, and non-discriminatory count for absolutely no reason. The solution to this problem is simple: Give the 2020 Census the time that the Bureau has already said it needs to count everyone fully and fairly, not the rush job that the Trump Administration suddenly seems to want.”

Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

“This administration knows well that its 11th hour decision to terminate census operations early will likely lead to an undercount of African Americans, immigrants and other people of color who have historically been left behind in prior Census counts. At every turn, this administration has undertaken action intended to obstruct the 2020 Census by excluding or depressing participation among communities of color. Shortening the counting timeframe in the middle of the census, against the advice of career officials and experts, and without a clear plan for moving forward, defies logic and reason. This lawsuit seeks to stop obviously destructive actions that can only result in incomplete data and an undercount, especially in Black and other communities of color.”

Sadik Huseny, Partner, Latham & Watkins

“The Census Bureau itself recognized that more time was needed to conduct the census due to the current pandemic, and carefully adopted a detailed timeline to ensure an accurate count. The sudden decision to cut short that timeline threatens vital government functions that rely on accurate census data, from Congressional apportionment to the equitable distribution of federal funds supporting basic needs such as food, health care, and education, and is contrary to the Constitution and to basic principles of administrative law.” 

About the Brennan Center for Justice

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to reform, revitalize and — when necessary — defend our country's systems of democracy and justice.

About the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 56th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.

About Latham & Watkins, LLP

Latham & Watkins delivers innovative solutions to complex legal and business challenges around the world. Our lawyers advise clients on market-shaping transactions, high-stakes litigation and trials, and sophisticated regulatory matters. Latham is one of the world’s largest providers of pro bono services, steadfastly supports initiatives designed to advance diversity within the firm and the legal profession, and is committed to exploring and promoting environmental sustainability.

About Public Counsel

Public Counsel  is the largest pro bono law firm in the nation, with a staff of 71 attorneys and 50 support staff - including five social workers - along with over 5,000 volunteer lawyers, law students and legal professionals who assist over 30,000 children, youth, families, and community organizations every year. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel is the public interest law firm of the Los Angeles County and Beverly Hills Bar Associations as well as the Southern California affiliate of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.