Trump administration: 2020 census to end Oct. 5, despite court order

The U.S. census
A federal judge has said a shortened census schedule ordered by President Trump would likely produce inaccurate results that would last a decade.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross says the 2020 census will end Oct. 5, despite a federal judge’s ruling last week allowing the head count of every U.S. resident to continue through the end of October, according to a tweet Monday from the Census Bureau.

The tweet said the ability for people to self-respond to the census questionnaire, as well as the door-knocking phase, in which census takers go to homes that haven’t responded, is targeted to end Oct. 5.

The announcement came as a virtual hearing was being held in San Jose as a follow-up to U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh’s preliminary injunction. The injunction last week suspended the Census Bureau’s deadline for ending the count Sept. 30; this automatically reverted the deadline back to an older Census Bureau plan, in which the date for ending field operations was Oct. 31.

The new Oct. 5 deadline doesn’t necessarily violate the judge’s order, because the injunction suspended the Sept. 30 deadline only for field operations. Additionally, Koh suspended a Dec. 31 deadline the Census Bureau has for turning in figures used for determining how many congressional seats each state gets, a process known as apportionment. The census also is used to determine how to distribute $1.5 trillion in federal spending annually.

At Monday’s hearing, Koh asked federal government attorneys to provide documents on how the decision to end the head count Oct. 5 was made. When a federal government lawyer suggested that the decision-making was a moving target without records, the judge asked, “A one-sentence tweet? Are you saying that is enough reason to establish decision-making? A one-sentence tweet?”


Given the judge’s preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order she had previously issued prohibiting the Census Bureau from winding down 2020 census operations, the decision was made that the Sept. 30 deadline was no longer viable, said August Flentje, special counsel to the assistant U.S. attorney general.

“It’s day-to-day adjustments and assessments,” Flentje said.

Koh said in her ruling last Thursday that the shortened schedule ordered by President Trump’s administration likely would produce inaccurate results that would last a decade. She sided with civil rights groups and local governments that had sued the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the statistical agency, arguing that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the counting ends this month.

Attorneys for the federal government said they were appealing the decision. During hearings, federal government attorneys argued that the head count needed to end Sept. 30 in order to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for handing in figures used for apportionment.

The decision by the Commerce Department came as census takers across the U.S. told the Associated Press that they were being pressured to meet the Sept. 30 deadline, even after Koh issued her injunction.

In upstate New York, a census supervisor told her census takers Friday that the Buffalo office was operating with Sept. 30 as the end date, according to a text obtained by the AP. “5 days left (no matter what the court status),” the text said.

In northern California, a manager on Sunday told supervisors working under him, “We’re in the home stretch with only 3 days left,” according to an email obtained by the AP. In the same region, a different manager told supervisors Monday that they needed to complete 99% of households in the the Santa Rosa area by Wednesday, including 12,000 households yet to be counted in Mendocino County. In the conference call, area manager Nicole Terrazas pleaded with her supervisors to ask their census takers to head to Mendocino County, even though that part of California is under threat of wildfires.

“We need as much help as we can get. We only have three days to do it,” said Terrazas on a call heard by an AP reporter.

When a census supervisor asked why they were being pressured with the Sept. 30 deadline when Koh’s preliminary injunction prohibits the count from ending at the end of this month, Terrazas called the judge’s order “something completely different.”

Other census takers and supervisors, including one from Texas, have sent emails to Koh’s court saying field operations in their areas are slated to shut down Sept. 30.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau last April pushed back the deadline for ending the 2020 census from the end of July to the end of October. The bureau also asked Congress to let it turn in numbers used for apportionment from the end of December to the end of April.

The deadline extension passed the Democratic-controlled House but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate after Trump issued a memorandum seeking to exclude people who are in the country illegally from being used in the apportionment count. A panel of three judges in New York said earlier this month that the memorandum was unlawful.