Any decision to end the census early could have far-reaching political effects.
A coalition of political advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision to end the 2020 U.S. Census ahead of schedule.
According to CNN, the lawsuit is but one of many legal complaints against the White House’s handling of the census. While the decennial population count was expected to conclude at the end of December, President Donald Trump has ordered the Census Bureau to complete its work by September 30th.
The complaint—filed by the National Urban League, League of Women Voters, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration, alongside several local organizations—alleges that the administration has ignored the Census Bureau’s own timelines and guidance.
Trump, says the lawsuit, has effectively disregarded “the Bureau’s own prior conclusions that such rushed processing renders it impossible to fulfill its constitutional obligation to ensure reasonable quality and accuracy of 2020 Census data.”
While the lawsuit has not requested the courts to return the Census deadline to December 31st, it is requesting that the administration delay its decision to provide more time for public feedback.
CNN notes that, when the coronavirus pandemic first began surging across the United States in late March, the Trump administration expressed fears that the Census’s timeline may need to be extended by at least several months.
In July, Al Fontenot—the Census Bureau official in charge of the 2020 count—reiterated the same concern.
“We are past the window of being able to get those counts by those dates at this point,” Fontenot said in a statement.
Somewhat paradoxically, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has since said the count must be completed by September to meet the December 31st deadline.
“While the critics have said this plain is being ‘cut-off’ too soon, in reality, it has been strengthen in order to get the complete and accurate count on time,” Ross said.
But the lawsuit raises widespread concerns that a rushed census could lead to densely-populated districts being under-counted—a political problem, considering that the United States’ urban centers tend to lean Democratic.
“Undercounted cities, counties, and municipalities will lose representation in Congress and tens of millions of dollars in funding,” the lawsuit states. “And communities of color will lose core political power and vital services.”
The census, notes KTLA5, decides the allocation of some $1.5 trillion in federal funds. It also determines how many representatives each state is entitled to in Congress.
Former Census officials have voiced similar concerns over a potentially rushed process.
“The end result would be over-rep for the White non-Hispanic population and greater undercounts for all other populations including the traditionally hard-to-count,” former Census director John Thompson told Congress.
Thompson, adds CNN, opined that it is “critical” that census “deadlines be extended.”
To date, the Census Bureau has received responses from just over half of all U.S. households contacted.