(CN) — The Ninth Circuit denied the Trump administration’s attempt to shut down the 2020 Census early, saying the government did not do enough to justify the appeals court overturning a lower court’s preliminary injunction preventing them from ending the process early.
A three-judge panel ruled the Trump administration was unlikely to prevail on its claim that moving up the deadline for collecting census data did not amount to a final agency action.
“The government has not made a strong showing that it is likely to prevail on appeal on its primary challenge to the district court’s merits ruling,” the judges wrote in the unanimous 21-page decision.
The ruling means that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely, as Sopan Joshi, the U.S. Attorney who argued for the administration during oral argument on Monday asked for an expeditious decision so an appeal could be entered in a timely manner.
While the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision to prevent the data collection process from concluding prematurely on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 31., the panel said the lower court overstepped its bounds when it also ordered the government to ignore the deadline of Dec. 31 for the entire census process.
“The December 31, 2020, deadline is nearly three months away,” the circuit judges wrote. “As we have already stated, predictions as to whether it can still be attained are speculative and unstable. And any harm from governmental attempts to meet the December 31 date are likely less irreparable than the injury from displacing the October 31 data collection endpoint.”
In other words, if the court were to allow the U.S. Census Bureau to close down the data collection point early, the plaintiffs in the case — a consortium of civil rights groups, cities and counties — would suffer irreparable harm.
That’s because once the data processing part of the census process begins, it is difficult to go back in the field and finish data collection for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the field workers are let go as soon as data collection concludes.
However, if the courts later concluded the Dec. 31 was too soon, it would not be difficult to restart or continue the data collection process.
Despite the panel’s refusal to require the U.S. Census Bureau to ignore the Dec. 31 deadline, the plaintiffs prevailed on the central question of whether the bureau should be able to close the data collection period prematurely.
The legal issues come amid a backdrop of political concerns over the way the Trump administration has conducted the 2020 Census. The census not only serves to give a reliable indication of population levels and demographics but also determines funding allocation for federal dollars and grants as well as the apportionment process.
Apportionment refers to how many Congressional seats are awarded to each state based on their respective populations. As the Trump administration unsuccessfully attempted to put a citizenship question on the census questionnaire, critics maintain that Trump is committed to undercounting minority communities in places like New York and California, states that are generally hostile to his policy agenda.
If so-called blue states like California and New York saw their congressional delegations reduced, it could help tip the balance of power toward the GOP in the House of Representatives.
The Trump administration has dismissed critics of its census plans and contends it has recorded the data for 99% of the state population in 43 states and Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
The lowest state, Louisiana, is at 97%, according to Joshi.
The preliminary injunction means that data collection workers will remain in the field until Oct. 31, unless the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is successful.