Sixth Circuit Breathes New Life Into Ohio Census Suit

The Buckeye State’s case against the federal government seeking quicker release of census data is headed back to the district court after an appellate panel found it has standing to pursue constitutional claims.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

CINCINNATI (CN) — The Sixth Circuit on Tuesday revived Ohio’s lawsuit against the Treasury Department over delayed census data and remanded the case for a district judge to determine whether an injunction is necessary to ensure a mid-August deadline is met.

A three-judge panel heard oral arguments in the case last week, and released a terse, two-page unpublished opinion just six days later.

The suit stemmed from the federal government’s failure to meet the statutory deadline regarding the release of census data, which Ohio and other states use in their redistricting process.

A federal judge dismissed the suit for lack of standing in March and determined Ohio will still be able to redraw its state and federal voting districts in time for the 2021 election cycle. The state needs to draw its new maps by Sept. 1, a process that includes three public hearings.

Ohio admitted during last week’s arguments before the Cincinnati-based appeals court it would be able to complete the redistricting process, but stood firm on its request for a quicker release of the data, now slated to be made available by mid-August.

An attorney for the federal government pushed aside any thought of a settlement agreement during last Wednesday’s hearing, but was open to the idea of remand, which would allow the district court to keep the U.S. Census Bureau on schedule.

In Tuesday’s per curiam opinion, the panel briefly touched on Ohio’s standing to bring suit and noted the failure to deliver the census data suffices as a “concrete injury” that is directly traceable to the federal agency.

As for the final element of standing, redressability, the court ruled an expedited release would work.

“Although Ohio would prefer to get its data sooner, Ohio agrees that an August 16 delivery would allow it to complete its redistricting process,” the ruling states. “But Ohio currently has no assurance that the federal government will live up to its most recent representation. So at the very least, monitoring by the district court could move the proceedings along and provide Ohio with some redress.”

The panel urged U.S. District Judge Thomas Rose, a George W. Bush appointee, to “treat this matter expediently,” given that little time remains before the projected August deadline.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who has accused the federal government of dragging its feet, issued a brief statement in support of the ruling Tuesday.

“Bringing this suit forced the U.S. Census Bureau to admit it can provide us the data sooner than originally stated — which has been our goal all along. Now we are asking the court to hold them to their word,” Yost said.

A spokesperson for the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The Sixth Circuit panel was comprised of U.S. Circuit Judges Amul Thapar, David McKeague and Martha Daughtrey, appointed by Donald Trump, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, respectively.

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