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Civil Rights Group Excoriates Trump Admin in Census Dispute: ‘Plaintiffs Just Want Defendants to Follow This Court’s Order’

A national civil rights organization asked a federal court to make the Trump administration abide by the law in a brief filed on Wednesday.

“Plaintiffs just want Defendants to follow this Court’s orders,” attorneys for the National Urban League implored the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in a bid to compel Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to comply with a prior ruling that the 2020 U.S. Census must be continued until October 31.

The filing comes two days after the Census Bureau said it planned to end substantially all Census operations on October 5.

“The Secretary of Commerce has announced a target date of October 5, 2020 to conclude 2020 census self-response and field data collection operations,” the Census Bureau said via Twitter–mere minutes before a scheduled hearing on the administration’s compliance with court-imposed orders and deadlines.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh issued a temporary restraining order barring the White House from ending the once-in-a-decade count on September 5 and a preliminary injunction along those same lines on September 30–demanding that the eponymous agency in charge of the Census stick with the original late October completion date.

Koh additionally faulted the administration for failing to produce the appropriate administrative record–calling that failure “unacceptable,” and saying that it was appropriate grounds for “sanctions.” That record, advocates and Census employees believe, will show that the Trump administration has failed to provide Census field organizers and Census takers (called “enumerators” in agency parlance) with “complete, timely, and accurate information about the need to comply” with the new timeline pronounced by the court.

Instead, the Urban League says, the administration’s actions strongly suggest that the agency is moving full-steam ahead with their previous plans to wrap the Census up quickly.

“Plaintiffs and the public are suffering irreparable injury every day that Defendants follow an accelerated timeline to finish all data collection and processing by December 31,” the filing claims–referring to the White House’s proposed date for the full and complete Census to be delivered to the executive branch. “Implementation of that timeline should have stopped on September 5 with the Court’s [temporary restraining order]. It has not.”

Koh’s early September order barred agency officials from delivering the results to Trump by that date–but the Census Bureau’s Monday statement lends credence to the idea that the White House has simply rejected that demand from the court as well.

“Complying with a federal court’s order is not optional,” tweeted left-wing immigrant rights organization Make the Road New York. “The Trump administration is flouting the rule of law to undercount and erase our communities.”

“The Trump administration is defying a court order that allows the public to submit census responses through October,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) via Twitter. “This is disturbing.”

The filing similarly did not mince words and explicitly argued that Ross and his subordinates are breaking the law [emphasis in original]:

The consequence of those failures is rushed completion of field operations in ways that will irretrievably harm the accuracy of the count. That is because the “target” end date has a direct impact on how non-response follow up [to Census inquiries] is conducted. Critical operations and metrics are tied to that date. Defendants know all this. Yet they still failed to properly and clearly disseminate this Court’s orders, admitted that census field supervisors were telling enumerators that data collection would end on September 30, posted on their website the same incorrect September 30 end date for four days after the Court’s September 24 [preliminary injunction] order (and twenty-three days after the initial [temporary restraining order] ruling), and affirmatively adopted a new “target date” to implement the December 31 deadline. There can be no question that Defendants violated the Court’s orders several times over.

To that end, the Urban League is asking for Judge Koh to force the Census Bureau to file weekly compliance reports that track and detail: (1) the agency’s communications with Census workers regarding real and projected end dates; (2) any terminations of Census workers–which is also prohibited by the court’s prior orders; and (3) any and all changes in how the Census is compiled–specifically how the administration is classifying whether or not any given housing unit is marked as “complete” for purposes of the count.

And, while the filing leans heavily into the idea that the Trump administration could be punished for their failure to comply with the court’s prior orders–the advocates stop just short of asking for any such judicial punishment(s) to be meted out.

“Although this Court has authority to find Defendants in contempt, and to award a broad range of sanctions, Plaintiffs ask for one thing: full compliance,” the filing said.

Read the full filing below:

National Urban League v. Wilbur Ross by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

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