Census whiplashed by changing deadlines, accuracy concerns
Shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration can end the 2020 census, a text message went out to field supervisors in Northern California telling them to start collecting the iPhones their census takers use for gathering household information during their door-knocking.
It was the fifth time in two months that they were given a new end date — this one Thursday — for the head count of everyone living in the U.S.
The Supreme Court decision Tuesday was just the latest case of whiplash for the census, which has faced starts and stops from the pandemic, natural disasters and court rulings, as well as confusion over when it was going to end and questions over whether minorities, immigrants, poor people and others would be counted accurately.
Minority groups have historically been undercounted in the once-a-decade census that determines how many congressional seats each state gets, as well as how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed each year, and advocates said the two-week-shorter schedule will make that even worse.
“The Trump administration is acting out of fear. They fear a future America where we are majority minority. They don’t want to see the power shift,” Meeta Anand, a fellow at the New York Immigration Coalition, said Wednesday. “They will ignore the rules. They will do everything they can to make sure the true nature of our society is not reflected.”
The Trump administration had argued that the head count needed to end immediately to give the Census Bureau time to meet a congressionally mandated Dec. 31 deadline for completing the figures that will be used to apportion House seats.
A coalition of local governments and advocacy groups had sued to keep the census going through October, saying that minorities and others would be missed if the census ended early.
By sticking to the Dec. 31 deadline, the Trump administration would end up controlling the numbers used for the apportionment, no matter who wins next month’s presidential election. Opponents fear the administration will depart from past practice and leave out of the count people who are in the U.S. illegally.
The nation’s highest court didn’t offer a reason for ending the census, though Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a dissent that minorities and others “will disproportionately bear the burden of any inaccuracies.”
The end date for the 2020 census has been a moving target since the pandemic temporarily halted field operations last spring.
The Census Bureau pushed an end-of-July deadline for concluding the count to the end of October because of the virus. But the Commerce Department, which oversees the agency, decided to move up the deadline to late September, then early October, and was thwarted both times by a federal judge in California.