Judge orders Trump administration stop 'winding down' census collection, processing efforts

A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to temporarily stop efforts to wind down the collection of data and processing of timelines for the 2020 census. 

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh issued a temporary restraining order late Saturday blocking Trump administration officials, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTrump admin asks Supreme Court to fast-track excluding people in U.S. illegally from census Trump 'very happy' to allow TikTok to operate in US if security concerns resolved TikTok, WeChat to be banned Sunday from US app stores MORE, from implementing plans that would shorten census efforts, including "winding down or altering any Census field operations."

The restraining order was filed in response to a legal motion from a coalition of civil rights and advocacy groups that claimed such plans would illegally impact the accuracy of the census data and possibly inflict harm on certain communities as a result. The census is updated every 10 years and helps determine federal funding levels for state and local governments. 

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The restraining order will remain in effect until Sept. 17, when a court hears a separate motion for a stay and preliminary injunction. 

“The court rightfully recognized the Trump administration’s attempted short-circuiting of our nation’s census as an imminent threat to the completion of a fair and accurate process,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups that filed the complaint, said in a statement. “President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE and Secretary Ross’ decisions to undermine the process may have deprived vulnerable communities of fair representation and fair allocation of funds for the next 10 years or more.”  

The Trump administration recently began moving forward with a plan that would cut census collection efforts from eight months to four months, the order noted. The administration's plan also calls for counting from the Census Bureau to stop on Sept. 30, about 30 days before the original end date. 

The lawsuit claims the new plan would lead to irreparable harm because an inaccurate census could cause a loss in federal funding for plaintiffs, among other issues. In her decision, Koh said the harm was "potentially" irreparable, noting an inaccurate census count would not be remedied for another decade and would affect the distribution of federal funding and local resources.

In August, the Trump administration shortened the census's enumeration period because of statutory constraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

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The shortened timeline has prompted concerns from officials outside the administration, including the Government Accountability Office. The agency released a report last month saying a shortened survey period could increase the risk of an inaccurate count. 

Top U.S. Census Bureau officials on Saturday emailed guidance to regional and area census offices regarding the new court order, the agency said in a news release. The email stated that the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department were "taking immediate steps" to comply with the order and that additional guidance would be released shortly. 

UPDATED 2:41 p.m.