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After high court ruling, DOJ wants census challenges stopped

The Census Bureau aims to turn in apportionment numbers by a congressionally-mandated Dec. 31 deadline. Critics say that's not enough time.

WASHINGTON — Now that the Supreme Court has allowed the Trump administration to end the 2020 census count, the courts should not interfere with efforts to meet a year-end deadline for turning in numbers used for divvying up congressional seats by state, Department of Justice attorneys said recently in court papers.

All further court challenges to the Trump administration's numbers-crunching methods for the 2020 census should be suspended as the U.S. Census Bureau works toward turning in apportionment numbers by a congressionally-mandated Dec. 31 deadline, Trump administration attorneys said.

The Trump administration filed the court papers in response to a request from U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California over how the case on the census's timetable should proceed following the Supreme Court ruling. A hearing on the matter had been set for Tuesday but it was postponed until next month.

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Koh last month issued a preliminary injunction that allowed the head count to continue through Oct. 31 instead of Sept. 30, and the numbers-crunching to proceed through the end of April 2021 instead of Dec. 31. The district judge sided with a coalition of local governments and advocacy groups that had sued the Trump administration, arguing that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the counting ended in September.

An appellate court suspended Koh's order as it relates to the numbers-crunching deadline at the end of the year, and the Supreme Court two weeks ago halted the entire preliminary injunction, allowing the field operations for the 2020 census to end.

“This Court and the parties previously expended extraordinary efforts to litigate and adjudicate Plaintiffs’ challenges at a breakneck pace only to have the Supreme Court rightly undo that hard work," the Trump administration said in court papers. “There is no need to repeat that fruitless process."

Attorneys for the coalition of local governments and advocacy groups said in their response that the Supreme Court ruling provided no guidance on the case since the justices did not offer an explanation for their decision, which does not conflict with any of the rulings from the lower courts on several issues.

Because of that, the case should move forward toward a trial and final ruling by the district judge, especially since the litigation has raised questions about the thoroughness of the count and doubts about whether the Census Bureau can even meet the Dec. 31 deadline, the attorneys for the coalition said.

The census is used to determine how many congressional seats each state gets, in a process known as apportionment, as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending annually.

Credit: AP
FILE - This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. Legal wrangling has surrounded the U.S. census count for decades. (AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith, File)