The Supreme Court order blocks a lower court order
that required the government to continue with the count as originally planned through the end of October.
The Census Bureau had originally proposed an Oct. 31 deadline to cease field operations back in April, after field operations froze for 47 days from March 18 to May 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in August, the Census Bureau reversed course, announcing plans to end field operations as of Sept. 30.
The Census Bureau argued in Court that field operations needed to cease immediately in order to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for tabulating and reporting total population data by state for purposes of congressional apportionment. However, various analyses done at the administrative level, including some by Census Bureau officials, unequivocally stated that the Census Bureau would be unable to meet the deadline under any conditions.
A coalition of advocacy organizations, cities, counties, and tribal groups sued, argued that the Census Bureau violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by reversing course. The APA requires administrative agencies to engage in “reasoned decision-making”—meaning that agencies must examine relevant data and articulate satisfactory explanations for their actions.
The federal district court issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Census Bureau from implementing both the Sept. 30 and Dec. 31 deadline. The Census Bureau appealed. Last week, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the federal district court’s decision in regards to the Sept. 30 deadline, thereby reinstating data collection field operations through Oct. 31; however, declined to uphold the injunction as to the Dec. 31 deadline.
The federal government filed an emergency motion asking the Supreme Court to freeze the district court decision. The Supreme Court provided a brief, unsigned order staying the lower court’s injunction. Essentially, even though the parties remain in litigation regarding the imposed Census Bureau deadlines, the Census Bureau is free to cease field operations. Following the order, the Census Bureau announced that field operations will cease on Thursday.
Hours after the ruling was released, the Census Bureau announced it will keep accepting responses online at My2020Census.gov
through Oct. 15 until 11:59 p.m. HST (Time in Hawaii). The Census Bureau has also set Oct. 15 as the postmark deadline for paper forms and phone responses.
A complete and accurate count of the population is critically important for cities as is serves as the basis for fair political representation and plays a vital role in many areas of public life. For instance, the results are used to determine how much funding local communities receive from the federal government for key public services. It remains to be seen how this ruling will affect overall census reporting and apportionment.
California cities can see how their cities rank in the Census 2020 Self-Response Rates
and are encouraged to publicize the importance of completing the census to residents up until the Oct. 15 deadline. Messaging and toolkits for communicating are available on the California Census 2020 website
. Be sure to screen the materials carefully prior to distributing, as some materials may still include the Sept. 30 deadline.