Ohio Settles Suit Over Delayed Census Data

Ohio’s Republican attorney general announced a settlement in his case against the federal government seeking quicker release of 2020 census data, calling a new August deadline a victory for his state.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — The U.S. Census Bureau must release 2020 census data to Ohio by Aug. 16, per the terms of a settlement agreement announced Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the state’s attorney general in February.

The settlement came on the heels of a decision by the Sixth Circuit to remand the case to the district court after a panel of appeals judges determined the Buckeye State had standing to challenge the bureau’s delay in releasing the data.

Initially, U.S. District Judge Thomas Rose found he was helpless to grant Ohio relief because the process of producing the data could not be sped up due to a number of factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic. Rose ruled Ohio lacked standing to bring its suit because its injuries were not traceable to the federal government and could not be meaningfully addressed by any court order.

Ohio uses census data to help redraw state and federal congressional districts, a bipartisan process that must be completed before the November 2021 election cycle.

Typically, the Census Bureau is required to release its data by March 31 of the year following a census, but the 2020 data has been delayed on several occasions amid the coronavirus crisis and was expected to be released to states in September.

The district court determined Ohio would still be able to complete the redistricting process with or without the census data, but Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, appealed the decision. The dispute was argued before a Sixth Circuit panel earlier this month, and the lower court was urged to act quickly when the case was remanded.

Tuesday’s agreement holds the federal lawsuit filed by Yost in abeyance, but requires the federal agencies in charge of the data to provide biweekly updates in the coming months.

Specifically, the Census Bureau must inform the court of its progress on June 14, June 28, July 12, July 26, Aug. 2 and Aug. 9, through the filing of notices regarding the anticipated release of the data.

Ohio has agreed to dismiss the suit without prejudice, provided it receives the census data by the agreed-upon deadline of Aug. 16.

In a statement, Yost called the settlement a “victory” for the people of Ohio, and emphasized the “critical” importance of the data for the redistricting process.

“This administration,” the attorney general said, “tried to drag its feet and bog this down in court, but Ohio always had the law on its side and now the federal government has finally agreed. It’s time to cough up the data.”

The Census Bureau had previously delayed the release of the data until the end of September, but Yost refused to accept that deadline.

“Before Ohio filed, the bureau insisted that it could not provide accurate, usable data before September. Because of our suit, the bureau found a way,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census Bureau, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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