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Analysis

Trump Abandons Attempts to Rush Census and Use Citizenship Data Improperly

In a lawsuit challenging plans aimed at undercounting communities of color, the administration agreed not to send data to the White House before Biden is inaugurated.

census
Adria Fruitos

In a win for the integ­rity of the census, on Friday the Trump admin­is­tra­tion agreed not to release popu­la­tion numbers or any citizen­ship data before Pres­id­ent-Elect Joe Biden takes office on Janu­ary 20.

The agree­ment, approved late Friday by a federal court, comes in a lawsuit chal­len­ging the admin­is­tra­tion’s efforts to rush the decen­nial count to a close before Pres­id­ent Trump leaves office, which would have opened the door for him to illeg­ally manip­u­late the count. It repres­ents a signi­fic­ant victory for the coali­tion of civil rights groups, civil soci­ety organ­iz­a­tions, and tribal and local govern­ments who brought the case, repres­en­ted by the Bren­nan Center, the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP.

The admin­is­tra­tion’s reversal provides the Census Bureau with more time to process the numbers that will be used to reap­por­tion the House and redraw elect­oral maps across the coun­try.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion had attemp­ted to accel­er­ate census data collec­tion and processing oper­a­tions to send popu­la­tion numbers for appor­tion­ment to the pres­id­ent by Decem­ber 31, 2020, instead of April 30, 2021, as the Census Bureau had planned under a delayed sched­ule devised to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. That unex­plained rush posed a seri­ous danger to correctly count­ing people of color and their chance for a fair share of repres­ent­a­tion and federal fund­ing. The plaintiffs had previ­ously succeeded in extend­ing the census count to Octo­ber 15, but Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials contin­ued to press the Census Bureau to deliver census totals to Trump before his term ends.

The agree­ment also means that the admin­is­tra­tion cannot move forward with its attempt to imple­ment Trump’s uncon­sti­tu­tional plan to exclude undoc­u­mented people from the count. (Multiple federal courts had declared that plan illegal before the Supreme Court last month declared the memor­andum prema­ture for judi­cial review, open­ing the possib­il­ity that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion would carry it out.)

Judge Lucy Koh of the United States District Court for the North­ern District of Cali­for­nia approved the agree­ment. In exchange for not releas­ing the numbers before Inaug­ur­a­tion Day, the federal govern­ment received a three-week pause in the case to give the Biden admin­is­tra­tion an oppor­tun­ity to assess its posi­tion going forward.

The admin­is­tra­tion’s attempts to politi­cize and inter­fere with the census brought years of chaos, threat­en­ing the accur­acy and integ­rity of the count. Now, instead of facing an arti­fi­cial dead­line of complet­ing the task before Trump leaves office, the Census Bureau will have more time to work on the numbers before they are released.

In a year when the bureau faced obstacles ranging from raging wild­fires and hurricanes to the Covid-19 pandemic, that extra time is essen­tial to increase the like­li­hood of getting a full, fair, and accur­ate count.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are member­ship and advocacy organ­iz­a­tions, counties, cities, feder­ally recog­nized Indian tribes, and indi­vidu­als whose communit­ies would be under­rep­res­en­ted in the final census count with a trun­cated 2020 Census. They include the National Urban League, the National Asso­ci­ation for the Advance­ment of Colored People, Black Alli­ance for Just Immig­ra­tion, the League of Women Voters, the Navajo Nation, Gila River Indian Community, and several local govern­ments.