Census Count Can Be Cut Short, Supreme Court Rules

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Judge Lucy H. Koh, of the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, ordered the bureau to keep working through the Oct. 31 deadline. “Because the decennial census is at issue here, an inaccurate count would not be remedied for another decade,” she wrote. She also suspended the Dec. 31 statutory deadline for submitting the results.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, turned down a request from the Trump administration to stay Judge Koh’s order and allow it to stop counting before the end of the month. But the panel said it would not bar the administration from trying to comply with the Dec. 31 reporting deadline.

The administration asked the Supreme Court to intervene, saying that only by shutting down field work now could the bureau meet the Dec. 31 deadline, which is set by statute. “The district court’s order constitutes an unprecedented intrusion into the executive’s ability to conduct the census according to Congress’s direction,” Jeffrey B. Wall, the acting solicitor general, told the justices in a brief filed on Wednesday.

“As the law stands,” Mr. Wall wrote, “assessing any trade-off between speed and accuracy is a job for Congress, which set the Dec. 31 deadline and has not extended it, and the agencies, which acted reasonably in complying with that deadline.”

On Saturday, Mr. Wall wrote that as of Oct. 9 the bureau had counted over 99 percent of households in 49 states. But that was widely questioned by census and demographic experts, who cast the number as a public relations estimate that concealed broad gaps in the accuracy of the tally, particularly in areas with minority groups and the young.

Among those criticizing the court’s action was Kenneth Prewitt, a Columbia University professor who headed the Census Bureau during the 2000 population count.

“The court has ruled, which it is paid to do,” he said. “Its ruling results in a less accurate census than is easily available.”

While the court’s ruling effectively stops the census, it does not end the legal battle over it. Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said they would turn to making sure that the Census Bureau was not forced to make further cuts in accuracy checks during the monthslong period in which population data is processed and verified.

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