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Biden Agrees to Proper Count as Census Fight Comes to an End

The agreement means concerns about how the decennial count of U.S. residents during the pandemic took place --- and how that data is being processed --- have been alleviated.

(CN) — A consortium of civil rights groups, cities, counties and Native tribes have agreed to end their fight with the federal government over concerns the Trump administration purposefully shortened the 2020 U.S. census to undercount people in areas not favorable to the GOP. 

The plaintiffs in the high-profile case involving the census presented a stipulated order for dismissal Thursday, saying the lawsuit effectively curtailed efforts to truncate and skew census data for partisan ends. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, who is presiding over the case, signed off on the dismissal and ordered the case closed.

“Every person deserves to be counted — and we are gratified to have been a part of this remarkable coalition’s critical fight to secure a fair and accurate census for all,” said Sadik Huseny and Melissa Arbus Sherry, the partners at Latham & Watkins who jointly led the litigation, in a prepared statement. “We thank the Department of Justice for its efforts, throughout the last few months, to bring this case to an appropriate resolution.”

Gratitude toward the Justice Department was certainly not how the case began, as a particularly acrimonious court battle between the Trump administration and the plaintiffs morphed into a more congenial affair after President Joe Biden defeated Trump last November. 

Plaintiffs accused the Trump administration of attempting to shorten the time period when census takers collect information by a full month and a half, before Koh ordered a preliminary injunction forcing the Trump administration to continue collecting data into October. 

“The Trump administration flipped the census on its head, attempting to rush both the bureau’s counting and data-processing operations for unconstitutional ends,” said Thomas Wolf of the NYU Brennan Center for Justice. “But today’s resolution and the many victories we’ve achieved in the courts along the way will significantly raise the likelihood that we get the full, fair, and accurate count that the U.S. Constitution guarantees.”

The plaintiffs also pointed to a legal victory in having the Census Bureau continue its count well into the spring. The Trump administration had argued it had a constitutional obligation to carry out the count before the presidential transition. 

Under the agreement, the Census Bureau will continue to process data and release the numbers no earlier than April 26. Its numbers will also include undocumented residents in the population counts of all states, a flashpoint of controversy during the process and throughout Donald Trump’s stint in office. 

The plaintiffs also won an agreement from the bureau that it will continue to analyze the data it collected during last year’s census process that took place during unprecedented circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The bureau has committed to issuing bimonthly updates on the quality of the data selected. 

“Since the beginning of my administration, one of my highest priorities was to ensure all Chicagoans participated in the census — no matter what challenges may have stood in the way,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. 

U.S. census data is key both to informing citizens regarding the overall population and the nation's demographic considerations, and in determining major political calculations, such as funding grants from federal agencies, and the apportionment of congressional seats. 

Civil rights groups said the Trump administration’s efforts to rush through the process were a determined bid to undercount urban areas with high populations of Black and Latino residents, who tend to vote Democrat. 

“Given the nation’s history of using census data to marginalize and exclude Black people from civic participation, National Urban League is especially proud to have played a role in defending the integrity of the 2020 count,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. 

Jonathan Nez, president of Navajo Nation, said the portion of the data collection process that the Trump administration attempted to truncate is of particular importance to his tribe, as the rural nature of Navajo residents means follow-up visits are critical. 

“The non-response follow-up stage of data collection has been particularly critical in past censuses to collecting a more complete count on the nation,” Nez said. “The Trump administration’s announcement to cut that period short, in addition to curtailing the time needed for accurate data processing, was unacceptable to the Navajo Nation.”

A Census Bureau spokesperson said the agency is pleased to have resolved the case.

"We share an interest in transparency and a complete and accurate census. Our census partners have played an essential role in encouraging response to the 2020 census across the country during these unprecedented times," the spokesperson said.

"We continue to focus on processing and releasing data from the 2020 census which represents the culmination of over a decade of dedicated work by many federal employees. We will take the time needed to produce 2020 census data that meets our quality standards as a statistical agency. The Census Bureau will release the first set of 2020 census data by April 30."

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