Census numbers won't be released before change in power

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Steven Dillingham, the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, speaks outside the Oklahoma State Capitol, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, in Oklahoma City, encouraging people to fill out their census form before the end of the month. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Government attorneys and municipalities fighting over the 2020 census asked a judge Friday to put their court case on hold, as Department of Justice attorneys confirmed the Census Bureau for now will not release numbers that could be used to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the process of divvying up congressional seats.

Department of Justice attorneys and attorneys for a coalition of municipalities and advocacy groups that had sued President Donald Trump's administration over the 2020 census asked U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to suspend their court case for 21 days so the administration of President-elect Joe Biden can take power and decide how to proceed.

Department of Justice attorney Brad Rosenberg said during a court hearing Friday that producing documents for the court case had burdened the Census Bureau as it worked to finish crunching the numbers used for allocating congressional seats and Electoral College votes by state, as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion each year in federal spending.

Those numbers likely aren't going to be ready until early March as the Census Bureau works to fix data irregularities, Department of Justice attorneys said earlier this week.

Koh said she would grant the request provided it is put into a court agreement in which any violations can be enforced with sanctions, or a violator can be held in contempt. Otherwise, any agreement “is just a piece of paper," she said during a virtual hearing.

As part of the agreement, the Trump administration attorneys said the Census Bureau would not be releasing figures related to two directives from Trump before the change in administrations.

Trump's first directive, issued in 2019, instructed the Census Bureau to use administrative records to figure out who is in the country illegally after the Supreme Court blocked his administration’s effort to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire. In a separate directive last year, Trump instructed the Census Bureau, as part of the 2020 count of every U.S. resident, to provide data that would allow his administration to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the numbers used for divvying up congressional seats among the states.

An influential GOP adviser had advocated excluding them from the apportionment process in order to favor Republicans and non-Hispanic whites, even though the Constitution spells out that every person in each state should be counted. Trump’s unprecedented order on apportionment was challenged in more than a half-dozen lawsuits around the U.S., but the Supreme Court ruled last month that any challenge was premature.

The Trump administration would not be releasing the numbers used for apportioning congressional seats among the states before the change in administrations, as part of the agreement. Biden has said he opposes the apportionment effort by the Trump administration.

The coalition of municipalities and advocacy groups originally sued the Trump administration to stop the census from ending early out of concerns that a shortened head count would cause minority communities to be undercounted. The coalition currently is seeking data and documents to help assess the accuracy of the 2020 census, saying a shortened timeline for processing the data will compromise its quality.

Meanwhile, the head of a House oversight committee that supervises the Census Bureau on Friday joined a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers calling for Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham's resignation after a watchdog agency said he had set a deadline that pressured statisticians to produce a report on the number of people in the U.S. illegally.

“I no longer have faith that he can lead the Bureau to produce a fair, accurate, and complete 2020 Census count as required by the Constitution," U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said in a statement. “Rather than ensure an accurate count, Dr. Dillingham appears to have acceded repeatedly to the Trump Administration’s brazen efforts to politicize the Census."

Dillingham on Wednesday ordered an indefinite halt to the efforts to produce data showing the citizenship status of every U.S. resident through administrative records after facing blowback from civil rights groups and concerns raised by whistleblower statisticians about the accuracy of such figures.

A report by the Office of Inspector General on Wednesday said bureau workers were under significant pressure from two Trump political appointees to figure out who is in the U.S. illegally using federal and state administrative records, and Dillingham had set a Friday deadline for bureau statisticians to provide him a technical report on the effort.

After the release of the inspector general's report, leaders of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights called for Dillingham's resignation.

Several Democratic lawmakers in Congress have followed suit in the past two days, saying Dillingham has allowed the Trump administration to politicize the 2020 census.

Dillingham's five-year term is finished at the end of the year. The Census Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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