Census numbers-crunching documents at center of latest fight

National

FILE – In this Aug. 11, 2020, file photo, a census taker knocks on the door of a residence in Winter Park, Fla. The congressional committee that oversees the Census Bureau issued a subpoena Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for documents related to data irregularities that are putting in jeopardy a year-end deadline for turning in numbers used for divvying up congressional seats. Democrat U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney is the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

A federal judge has rejected an emergency request from the Trump administration that would stop it from being immediately forced to release documents showing how the 2020 census numbers have been crunched in the weeks since the U.S. head count ended in October.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said in her ruling late Sunday that “time is of the essence” in dismissing the claims of government attorneys who said they have no way of meeting her court-ordered deadline without releasing all 88,000 documents a search has produced, with no time to review and redact confidential information.

“Defendants’ problem is of entirely their own making,” said the judge in San Jose, California.

The judge, however, gave the government attorneys some breathing room by allowing them to present documents they think are confidential before a panel of magistrate judges, who will rule over the next week on whether they can be released.

Government attorneys had asked Koh over the weekend to reconsider her order to release the documents or put it on hold. Last week, Koh ordered the government attorneys to produce documents that show details ofthe Census Bureau ’s plans, procedures and schedules for the numbers-crunching phase of the 2020 census.

Attorneys for a coalition of local governments and advocacy groups that had sued the Trump administration called the government’s request to delay the documents deadline a “run down the clock strategy.”

“Defendants should no longer be allowed to hide their data processing plans, procedures, and schedule in this case,” the plaintiffs said in a court filing Sunday. “And there is no more time to trust that Defendants will do right, in a timely fashion, in the future.”

The judge also ordered government attorneys to produce documents requested by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which last week subpoenaed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for documents related to data irregularities in the 2020 census. The Commerce Department oversees the Census Bureau.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the committee’s chair, has alleged that the Republican Trump administration is blocking the release of full, unredacted documents she requested about data anomalies.

The Trump administration’s production of documents “so far has been inadequate,” Koh said.

The fight over efforts to shine a light on how the bureau is analyzing the numbers under a compressed schedule is the latest twist in a lawsuit that already has made one trip to the Supreme Court. The high court’s decision in the lawsuit two months ago allowed the Trump administration to end field operations for the head count in mid-October, two weeks earlier than previously planned.

The coalition of local governments and advocacy groups brought the lawsuit against the Trump administration for trying to end the once-a-decade head count early and also for aiming to turn in the census numbers used for divvying up congressional seats by a Dec. 31 deadline. They said the shortened timetable would cause minority communities to be undercounted.

The coalition says the count was shortened by the Commerce Department so that numbers-crunching happens while President Donald Trump is still in office so that his administration can enforce his order to exclude people in the country illegally from the numbers used for determining how many congressional seats each state gets. The Supreme Court could rule any day on whether to uphold or strike down Trump’s order in a separate lawsuit.

Documents leaked to the House committeethis month suggest the apportionment numbers won’t be ready until after Jan. 20, when Trump leaves office and President-elect Joe Biden moves into the White House. The Census Bureau has admitted discovering data irregularities in recent weeks that put the Dec. 31 deadline in jeopardy.

The Supreme Court ruled only on one aspect of the San Jose lawsuit and several parts of the case remain to be litigated. The lawsuit is headed for trial next March. Besides being used for apportionment and redistricting, the 2020 census numbers will help determine the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending.

More time is needed to process the data and correct for any errors since the schedule for the numbers-crunching phase was reduced from five months to half that time, according to the lawsuit.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

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