Protecting the census timeline: Civil rights groups, civic organizations and local governments sue federal government

Protecting the Census
Protecting the Census

 

Special to The Dallas Examiner

 

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The League of Women Voters of the United States, the National Urban League and Black Alliance for Immigration, as well as Harris County of Texas, the city of Los Angeles, California; the city of Salinas, California; the city of San Jose, California; along with Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia of the Harris County Commissioners Court filed a lawsuit Aug. 18 against the federal government for its “unconstitutional decision to sacrifice the accuracy of the 2020 Census by abruptly and inexplicably rushing the decennial enumeration to a close amid a national public health emergency.”

“The government’s forcing the census timeline back to Sept. 30 fails to consider the indisputable impact COVID-19 had on this important process and is another attempt to obstruct full enumeration of America’s people,” said Dr. Deborah Turner, president of the board of directors of the LWV. “States and municipalities rely on an accurate Census count to ensure adequate funding of basic necessities for all Americans: critical infrastructure, schools, hospitals, social services. COVID presents a severe disruption to this vital counting process, and our government should be prioritizing plans that allow the Census Bureau to finish their work, not making last-minute changes designed to inhibit the process.”

Due to the pandemic, the census requested additional time to complete counting until Oct. 31 of this year, but the new timeline moves that end date up to Sept. 30.

“An accurately counted Census forms the basis for a healthy democracy – that’s why it is mandated in our Constitution,” said Celina Stewart, senior director of advocacy and litigation for the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Census data is central to the redistricting process, which states will begin carrying out in 2021. Without an accurate Census count, our Congressional and state legislative districts will not be truly representative. The government’s decision to sabotage an accurate count puts our democracy in jeopardy.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the country during the spring, the Census Bureau introduced a contingency plan that accounted both for the difficulties of census-taking during a pandemic and the Bureau’s constitutional and statutory obligation to achieve a fair and accurate count. But, on Aug. 3, the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau suddenly, and without explanation, reversed the Bureau’s contingency plan in favor of a new one.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Latham & Watkins, LLP; the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney; the Office of the Salinas City Attorney; and Public Counsel.

“This administration knows well that its 11th hour decision to terminate census operations early will likely lead to an undercount of African Americans, immigrants and other people of color who have historically been left behind in prior Census counts,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “At every turn, this administration has undertaken action intended to obstruct the 2020 Census by excluding or depressing participation among communities of color. Shortening the counting timeframe in the middle of the census, against the advice of career officials and experts, and without a clear plan for moving forward, defies logic and reason. This lawsuit seeks to stop obviously destructive actions that can only result in incomplete data and an undercount, especially in Black and other communities of color.”

Like the Lawyer’s Committee, several organizations and government officials expressed concern regarding how the shorted census period would affect minority communities.

“The Trump administration’s order shortening the time to complete the Census from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30 is yet another of this administration’s rogue and racist decisions intended to deprive Black communities of resources and execute a redistricting scheme that supports and perpetuates white supremacy,” said Nana Gyamfi, executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “The extension was granted in recognition of COVID-19 and its impact on outreach and capacity to get an accurate count. This manipulative order to shorten the time will result in a significant undercount of Black folks, including Black immigrants. We will continue to make sure our community members are counted in the census even as we oppose this latest attack by this administration.”

National Urban League v. Ross was filed in US District Court in the Northern District of California. Self-response to the census remains open at My2020Census.gov.

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