The ruling, which the Justice Department is expected to appeal, is the latest turn in a longstanding political controversy over the poll that awards seats in Congress. The Trump administration has exerted unprecedented political influence on the poll that critics say will benefit Republicans in the upcoming elections, including by speeding up the process and trying to exclude undocumented immigrants.
Thursday’s decision relates to a coronavirus-induced postponement of the deadline. Last spring, the deadline for the census was extended to October 31, and the deadline for reporting totals to the President was extended to April 2021 by the US Census Bureau after the pandemic stopped collecting data.
Last month, however, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross abruptly announced changes to the updated plan, cutting the counting deadline to September 30th and setting December 31
st as the deadline for reporting totals to the president.
The National Urban League and several other groups, including the city of Los Angeles, had sued the government and asked for an injunction to prevent the government from completing the census on September 30th.
In her verdict on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, appointed by President Barack Obama, issued an injunction preventing the August deadlines announced by the Census Bureau from going into effect.
Los Angeles District Attorney Mike Feuer said the injunction was a great asset to a more accurate census count in a statement released after residency was granted. He also said he felt the Trump administration caused the reduced deadline.
“The court went through the Trump administration’s efforts to camouflage its political interference in the supposedly neutral, impartial process of counting every person,” Feuer said in a statement. “With so little time to lose and so much at stake, I urge everyone to take the few moments it takes to get on the census.”
CNN has asked the Justice Department for comment.
At a hearing late Tuesday, Koh had signaled concern about the decision to postpone the October 31 end date. She pointed out that the Census Bureau is unlikely to hit its own 99% standard for completion by the end of September.
“Four out of 50 states have reached the shutdown threshold,” she said, referring to the latest data from the Census Bureau. “Why does the office insist on ending data collection in seven days? … That means 46 states have not yet met the requirements.”
Alexander Sverdlov, a lawyer representing the government, argued that delays in this case affect the Census Bureau’s ability to stop counting and move into the numbering phase, which lasts several months. He said the government is trying to meet a deadline of December 31 to produce final figures.
Internal documents published in the lawsuit and reviewed by CNN showed great concern among Census Bureau officials when they first got wind in late July that Ross might postpone the deadline.
“It is ridiculous to think that we can 100% complete the land data collection before October 31st, and any thinking person who would think we can deliver the breakdown by December 31st has either an intellectual flaw or one political motivation, “wrote Tim Olson, who oversees the massive operation of sending door-to-door workers in households that did not respond to the survey.
His colleagues warned in a memo that ending the count early could lead to a balance sheet of “unacceptable quality” with “fatal errors” bearing the mark of “politically manipulated results”.
The government, meanwhile, has argued that the constitution’s obligation to conduct a US population census every 10 years does not specify whether or how it should be accurate.
In yet another battle over the census last week, the Trump administration said it was planning to make its efforts to exclude undocumented immigrants from the Supreme Court poll.
CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.