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Groups ask for restraining order to stop census wind-down

FILE In this June 27, 2019, file photo, demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court as the justices finish the term with key decisions on gerrymandering and a census case involving an attempt by the Trump administration to ask everyone about their citizenship status in the 2020 census, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The U.S. Census Bureau has spent much of the past year defending itself against allegations that its duties have been overtaken by politics. With a failed attempt by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question, the hiring of three political appointees with limited experience to top positions, a sped-up schedule and a directive from President Donald Trump to exclude undocumented residents from the process of redrawing congressional districts, the 2020 census has descended into a high-stakes partisan battle. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A day after the U.S. Census Bureau said that it has already taken steps to wind down operations for the 2020 census, a coalition of cities, counties and civil rights groups is trying to stop the statistical agency in its tracks.

The coalition asked a federal judge in San Jose on Thursday to issue a temporary restraining order stopping the Census Bureau from taking any further actions toward ending the once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident.

The coalition is asking a judge in a lawsuit to make the Census Bureau restore its previous deadline for finishing the census to the end of October, instead of using a revised schedule to end operations at the end of September. Arguments aren’t scheduled until the middle of the month.

“More immediate relief is needed,” said the court filing by the coalition.

The door-knocking phase of the 2020 didn’t start for most of the U.S. until the beginning of August, so winding down operations in September will lead to an inaccurate count that overlooks minority communities, the court filing said. During the door-knocking phase, census takers go to households that haven’t yet answered the census questionnaire online, by phone or by mail.

The lawsuit contends the Census Bureau changed the schedule to accommodate a directive from President Donald Trump to exclude people in the country illegally from the numbers used in redrawing congressional districts, a process known as apportionment. More than a half dozen other lawsuits have been filed in tandem across the country, challenging Trump’s memorandum as unconstitutional and an attempt to limit the power of Latinos and immigrants of color during apportionment.

The lawsuit was brought by the National Urban League, the League of Women Voters, counties that are home to Houston and Seattle and the cities of Los Angeles, San Jose and Salinas, California.

Government attorneys on Friday said in a court filing that they would offer a more detailed argument against the restraining order but disagreed with statements in the coalition’s argument. The government attorneys said they would have been willing to negotiate an accelerated schedule for the lawsuit.

In an op-ed piece in USA Today, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, said Friday that almost 85% of households had been counted, between residents who self-responded and those who were counted by door-knocking census takers.

“Some have questioned our ability to perform on this timeline without impacting completeness or accuracy. The numbers prove that is not the case,” Ross wrote.

Meanwhile, top Democratic congressional leaders on Friday demanded that the Trump administration provide documents, emails, notes and calendar invitations that showed how the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department made the decision to end the 2020 census a month early.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham that they were concerned the schedule was compressed so that the apportionment count would be controlled by the Trump administration.

In the letter, Pelosi and Schumer recounted a meeting with Trump administration officials during negotiations over coronavirus-relief legislation in which they raised their concerns about the changed census schedule. The Democratic leaders showed administration officials a statement from four former Census Bureau directors who said it would be difficult to have a fair and accurate count with the compressed schedule. House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows responded, “the Democrats just want to control the apportionment and we aren’t going to let them do that,” according to Pelosi and Schumer.

“It appears that Mr. Meadows may have made the previously unspoken intentions of (the) President and his Administration clear: the White House was intervening to ensure President Trump would control the apportionment process while in office rather than ensuring an accurate count for the American people as required by the Constitution,” Pelosi and Schumer said in the letter.