Census Judge ‘Disturbed’ by Rush to Finish, Demands Explanation

An announcement Monday that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is aiming to end census data collection by Oct. 5 took a federal judge by surprise days after she ordered operations to continue through Oct. 31 to get an accurate population count.

“Breaking news,” a lawyer for the Commerce Department told U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh as a hearing was under way on a lawsuit by civil rights groups claiming that the Trump administration’s move to compress the timeline for the once-a-decade census will result in an undercount of minorities.

The government lawyer pointed the judge to a tweet from the Census Bureau about Ross’s intentions.

Koh said she was “disturbed” that “despite the court’s order,” census supervisors have told field workers to wrap up data collection. The judge added that she’s been “inundated” with emails from field workers making similar
allegations.

“Clearly, I need to bring this to a head sooner than I thought,” she said. “And I’m prepared to do it. So let’s do this.”

The judge set a deadline of Tuesday for the Commerce Department to produce the administrative record of the decision-making behind the Ross announcement.

August Flentje, the lawyer representing the Commerce Department, told Koh that due to the flurry of litigation, “this is a fluid operation at this point.”

The Trump administration is appealing Koh’s ruling that blocked the administration from moving its deadline for data collection from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30, and for reporting to the president from April 30, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2020.

“There had to be a recognition that Sept. 30 would not be meetable, even with a stay,” Flange said. “It could change again. It could change in two days.”

Koh reset other deadlines for the Commerce Department to turn over information about its decision-making, saying her court and its judges have already “moved mountains” to accommodate the government’s delays. She threatened to hold government lawyers in contempt of court if the dates aren’t met.

“You get as many people at the Justice Department needed to get that done,” she told Flentje, referring to a Sunday deadline. “It’s just time that I have good faith compliance with my orders.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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