The numbers used for deciding how many congressional seats each state gets can't be released before next Monday, according to an agreement that settles litigation between the U.S. Census Bureau and a coalition of local governments and civil rights groups.
The agreement filed in court on Thursday also requires the statistical agency to provide regular updates to the civil rights groups and local governments on the quality of the data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts. It resolves a lawsuit that forced an extension of the nation's head count after the former Trump administration tried to cut it short.
"Every person deserves to be counted â€” 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," Sadik Huseny and Melissa Sherry, two of the attorneys representing the local governments and civil rights groups, said in a statement.
Shortly after it was filed in federal court in San Jose, California, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh approved the agreement.
In a statement, the Census Bureau said agency officials were pleased a resolution had been reached.
"We will take the time needed to produce 2020 Census data that meets our quality standards as a statistical agency,” the bureau’s statement said.
The agreement comes three months after President Joe Biden took office and rescinded two directives issued by President Donald Trump that critics said motivated his administration to try to end field operations for the 2020 census a month earlier than planned.
The first Trump directive ordered that people in the country illegally should be excluded from the state population count used for divvying up congressional seats among the states, also known as the apportionment numbers. The second directive ordered the Census Bureau to gather citizenship information about every U.S. resident using administrative records after the Supreme Court nixed the Trump administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the census questionnaire.
In response to Biden’s order in January, the Census Bureau discontinued efforts to create citizenship tabulations at the city-block level using 2020 census data in combination with administrative records. The lawsuit settlement says that the Census Bureau recognizes that the citizenship data are incomplete and unfit for use for either divvying up congressional seats among the states or redrawing congressional or legislative districts.
"This result in this case has increased the prospects that the 2020 Census, which was conducted in the face of unprecedented threats, will be more accurate than it otherwise would have been,” said Damon Hewitt, acting president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the coalition members. "The settlement of this case will have long-lasting and life-changing consequences nationwide."
Because of the pandemic, the Census Bureau last year pushed back the deadline for finishing the count from the end of July to the end of October. Then last summer the agency announced that the deadline would be changed to the end of September, cutting off a month, after the Republican-controlled Senate failed to take action on a Census Bureau request for more time to turn in the numbers.
The coalition sued the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, claiming the shortened schedule would cause Latinos, Asian Americans and immigrants to be missed in the count. Critics also said the count was shortened, as was the amount of time to process the data, so that then-President Donald Trump would still be in the White House when the apportionment numbers were finished and his directives could be implemented.
A federal judge ruled in favour of the coalition, but on appeal, the Supreme Court allowed the Census Bureau to end the head count in mid-October.
The Census Bureau missed a Dec. 31 deadline for turning in the apportionment numbers, and it kept pushing back the dates for releasing the numbers after not-unexpected irregularities were found in the data. As government attorneys negotiated toward a settlement with the coalition, the Census Bureau agreed to release the apportionment numbers sometime between mid-April and the end of the month.
The census not only decides how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets based on population, but it also determines the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding each year.
As part of the agreement, the federal government will pay the defendants $1.65 million for costs and legal fees.
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Mike Schneider, The Associated Press