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Supreme Court rules census count can be halted immediately

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a request by the Trump administration to stay a lower court injunction that prevented the U.S. Census Bureau from ending its field work for the 2020 census.

The ruling permits the bureau to stop the count immediately, more than two weeks before the existing Oct. 31 deadline.

The decision is the latest twist in the running fight between the bureau and a group of non-profit advocacy groups and California cities, including the cities of San Jose, Los Angeles and Salinas.

In September, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh entered a preliminary injunction against the bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce preventing the shortening of two deadlines applicable to the preparation of the census.

One of the deadlines — Oct. 31 — applied to the field work done by census workers going door-to-door to get information not already obtained through mail-in surveys.

Plaintiffs sued after the defendants abruptly shortened the Oct. 31 deadline to Sept. 31. Plaintiffs alleged, and Judge Koh agreed, that the defendants were promoting speed over accuracy and the effect would be to leave groups of traditionally hard-to-reach individuals uncounted, including minorities and economically disadvantaged residents.

While the Supreme Court ruling means that field work will stop immediately, counting continued for two weeks after the shortened deadline as a result of the lower court order.

In a statement after the ruling, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Melissa Arbus Sherry, said:

“We’ve come a long way since the district court enjoined defendants from prematurely winding down census field operations on September 11. As a result, millions more Americans have been counted … Every day has mattered, and the Supreme Court’s order staying the preliminary injunction does not erase the tremendous progress that has been made as a result of the district court’s rulings.”

This is the third time the Supreme Court has become involved in disputes concerning the 2020 census.

When the Commerce Secretary sought to add a question about citizenship to the census questionnaire, the case went to the Supreme Court where the attempt was rejected in a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts in 2019.

Then in July, President Trump issued a memorandum that declared “it is the policy of the United States to exclude” from the count used to determine the apportionment of representatives to Congress all “aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status under the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

The president directed the Secretary of Commerce to carry out the policy.

A special three-judge panel heard a challenge to that order and ruled against the Trump administration on Sept. 10, on the grounds that the president had exceeded his authority under federal law relating to the census.

The Justice Department appealed that matter directly to the Supreme Court and asked the court to fast track the case so it could be heard before the end of 2020. The court has not yet ruled in that matter.

That matter has taken on additional complexity because Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the justices in the majority in the 2019 census case ruling, died on Sept. 18 and the court currently only contains eight justices.

President Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative judge currently sitting on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, for the vacant seat on the high court.

Trump is pushing the Senate to confirm Barrett before the Nov. 3 election and hearings on her appointment are taking place this week in Washington D.C.

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