2020 Census
January 14, 2021

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said in a memo Wednesday that he is indefinitely halting a Trump administration effort to gather the citizenship status of everyone in the U.S., telling workers struggling to comply with a Friday deadline to "'stand down' and discontinue their data reviews."

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department's inspector general's office had reported that bureau workers were under significant pressure from two Trump political appointees, Nathaniel Cogley and Benjamin Overholt, to produce data on who is in the U.S. illegally. Any such data would be incomplete, misused, and detrimental to the Census Bureau's reputation, the inspector general said.

Dillingham's decision effectively ends, again, President Trump's unprecedented two-year effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census. A Trump administration lawyer said Monday that the apportionment data won't be processed until at least early March, weeks after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. The census numbers are used to determine how many congressional seats each state gets and how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is divided up. A prominent Republican operative had advocated stripping out non-citizens to help Republicans and white Americans.

"President Trump tried and failed throughout his entire presidency to weaponize the census for his attacks on immigrant communities," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "It appears he has failed yet again." Before Dillingham released his memo Wednesday, a coalition of civil rights groups had called on him to resign. His five-year term is not up until the end of 2021. Peter Weber

January 5, 2021

The Census data used to apportion federal funds and congressional seats won't be ready until a least Feb. 9, weeks after President-elect Joe Biden takes office, a Trump administration lawyer told a federal court in San Jose, California, on Monday. The U.S. Census Bureau missed a Dec. 31 deadline to hand over the data, saying it would be ready in "early 2021." If the apportionment is finalized after Jan. 20, President Trump probably won't succeed in his unprecedented effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the decennial head count.

John Coghlan, the deputy assistant attorney general who delivered the Feb. 9 target date in court, said the Census Bureau had found new irregularities in the data and the actual finalization of apportionment numbers is "a continuously moving target." The Census Bureau struggled to undertake its population survey amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and even with the Trump administration's decision to end the counting early, outside statisticians predicted the bureau's data processing timetable was unrealistic, The Associated Press reports.

"I appreciate the need for target dates but hope and expect that the Census Bureau would double down on its commitment to focus primarily on the quality of the apportionment counts, however long that takes," said Rob Santos, president of the American Statistical Association. Peter Weber

December 3, 2020

President Trump's determined effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census has been thwarted at every turn — by the courts, the coronavirus, the Constitution, and now by the clock.

Census Bureau documents released Wednesday by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee suggest that the final apportionment count won't be delivered to the president until at least Jan. 23, three days after President-elect Joe Biden takes office, because of at least 15 data anomalies affecting more than a million census records. Biden opposes Trump's proposed exclusion of non-citizens.

"These anomalies are more serious than first reported," Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a letter, threatening to subpoena requested documents on the census if he does not hand them over.

The apportionment data, which will be used to divide the 435 House seats among 50 states, is supposed to be delivered to the president by Dec. 31, but it's been clear for a few weeks that the Census Bureau would miss that deadline. Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall told the Supreme Court in oral arguments Monday that the bureau would miss the deadline but could deliver some of the data in January.

The Supreme Court blocked Trump in 2019 from adding a citizenship question to the census, and the justices seemed skeptical Monday that Trump can legally exclude undocumented immigrants from the decennial head count. Lower courts have ruled against the exclusion, pointing to the Constitution and its 14th Amendment. The census has never before used citizenship status to apportion congressional representation.

The Census Bureau, in an unsigned statement, did not dispute the authenticity of the documents but said "the estimated date that apportionment data will be complete remains in flux," and "internal tracking documents would not convey the uncertainty around projected dates and may fail to reflect the additional resources employed to correct data anomalies." Peter Weber

October 13, 2020

The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked without explanation a federal trial court ruling requiring the census count to continue through the end of October, allowing the Trump administration to halt the process two weeks early. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, Bloomberg reports.

The White House said the count needed to stop immediately so that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross can send President Trump a report by the statutory deadline on Dec. 31. Civil rights groups have said ending early will mean minority groups in certain areas will likely be undercounted and subsequently receive less political representation and federal funding than if a more accurate count was taken.

The activists have also argued that Trump asked to shorten the census schedule to accommodate a July order that would exclude undocumented immigrants from the count. The court is currently considering how to handle that order and will likely decide later this month whether they will hear arguments on the issue. Read more at Bloomberg and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

October 7, 2020

The Trump administration filed an emergency application on Wednesday night with the Supreme Court, asking it to halt an earlier appeals court decision that extended the count of the 2020 Census to the end of the month.

In late September, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled that due to hurdles faced during the coronavirus pandemic, the Census Bureau could continue counting through the end of October; plaintiffs argued that the extension would reduce the risk of undercounting harder-to-access populations such as immigrants, minorities, and lower-income groups, The Washington Post reports. The Trump administration nevertheless set a "target date" of Oct. 5 to end the count, which Koh called a "violation" of her order.

"Defendants' dissemination of erroneous information; lurching from one hasty, unexplained plan to the next; and unlawful sacrifices of completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census are upending the status quo, violating the Injunction Order, and undermining the credibility of the Census Bureau and the 2020 Census. This must stop," Koh said.

Koh's order to extend the census count would bump back an analysis of the data from the end of the year to April 30, 2021; the Trump administration has argued against this, saying Census workers won't have enough time to analyze the data if counting extends to the end of the month. That's a concern for the administration because, as NPR notes, Trump wants to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the total and "if the bureau delivers the state counts by Dec. 31, Trump would be able to attempt to make that unprecedented change to who counts when reapportioning House seats among the states, even if he does not win re-election." Jeva Lange

September 25, 2020

A federal judge in California blocked the U.S. Census Bureau late Thursday from ending the 2020 count of every U.S. resident at the end of September, siding with civil rights groups and local governments who argued that the Trump administration's premature termination of the census would result in an undercount of minorities and other hard-to-count communities. The Commerce Department had argued that ending the already shortened decennial head count on Sept. 30, not Oct. 31, was necessary to meet a Dec. 31 deadline.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh agreed with the plaintiffs that the inaccurate results would inequitably affect the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding and skew political representation. Lawyers for the Census Bureau and Commerce Department said they will likely appeal the ruling. Peter Weber

September 18, 2018

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appears to have misled Congress when he testified that the Justice Department had "initiated" including a question about U.S. citizenship on the U.S. census, according to newly unredacted documents released Monday as part of a lawsuit. Ross said in March that the Justice Department had pushed for the citizenship question, which hasn't been included in the census since 1950, so it could enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The new documents add to the evidence that Ross was the driving force.

In a September 2017 email to Ross, Commerce official Earl Comstock said he had approached the Justice Department in May to "discuss the citizenship question," and "Justice staff did not want to raise the question given the difficulties Justice was encountering in the press at the time (the whole Comey matter)." Comstock said he then tried the Department of Homeland Security, and they pointed him back to the Justice Department, so he asked a Commerce Department lawyer to explore "how Commerce could add the question to the census itself." A few months later, the Justice Department formally requested the citizenship question.

The Census Bureau's chief scientist, other researchers, and a bureau-sponsored marketing campaign have found that including the citizenship question depresses the participation of Latinos, Asians, and other minorities, skewing the constitutionally mandated decennial head count. Ross "personally lobbied the attorney general to submit the memorandum that the secretary 'then later relied on to justify his decision,'" plaintiffs' lawyers argued in the lawsuit, one of six around the country seeking to strike the citizenship question.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who's overseeing the lawsuit in Manhattan, had ordered the Trump administration to release the unredacted memos, saying they "go to the heart" of the central question of Ross' intent in adding the citizenship question. Furman has potentially scheduled a trial to start Nov. 5, though Justice Department lawyers are arguing against a trial and Ross deposition. Peter Weber

April 24, 2018

The next census is getting another update.

Aside from the addition of a controversial citizenship question, the 2020 census will also count same-sex couples for the first time in U.S. history, the Census Bureau recently announced.

Previously, the census gathered data about coupled households with two options: "husband or wife" or "unmarried partner." Now, people will able to check "opposite-sex husband/wife/spouse," "same-sex husband/wife/spouse," "opposite-sex unmarried partner," or "same-sex unmarried partner."

The Census Bureau told NBC News that the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage on a federal level made the change necessary. The number of same-sex couples has previously been estimated by cross-checking spouses' answers to the form's gender question.

Census data, collected once a decade, helps determine how to allocate federal funding to state and local governments, as well as assists in assigning the number of seats in the House of Representatives for each state. Many advocacy groups have pushed for the census to include a question about same-sex couples, NBC News reports. Summer Meza

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