ORLANDO, Fla. — A federal judge has stopped the 2020 Census from finishing at month’s end and suspended a year-end deadline for delivering the numbers needed to decide how many seats each state gets in Congress.
The preliminary injunction granted by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in California late Thursday allows the once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident to continue through the end of October.
Koh said the shortened schedule ordered by President Donald Trump’s administration likely would produce inaccurate results that would last a decade.
The judge sided with civil rights groups and local governments that sued the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the statistical agency, arguing that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the counting ends this month.
In granting the preliminary injunction, the judge said the plaintiffs were likely to succeed at a trial. Despite concerns raised by top Census Bureau officials about the shortened schedule, the Trump administration failed to consider its duty to produce an accurate head count and neglected to adequately explain a reason for it, she said.
Koh said inaccuracies produced from a shortened schedule would affect the distribution of federal funding and political representation over the next 10 years. The census is used to determine how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed each year and how many congressional seats each state gets.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, around the same time the census started for most U.S. residents, the bureau had planned to complete the 2020 census by the end of July.
In April, in response to the pandemic, it extended the deadline to the end of October. Then, in late July or early August, the deadline changed once again to the end of September after the Republican-controlled Senate failed to take up a request from the Census Bureau to extend the Dec. 31 deadline for turning over the numbers used for deciding how many congressional seats each state gets.
Attorneys for the Census Bureau had argued that the census must finish by the end of September to meet the Dec. 31 deadline and have enough time for crunching the numbers used for deciding how many congressional seats each state gets, in a process known as apportionment. But Koh said that argument “runs counter to the facts.”
“Those facts show not only that the Bureau could not meet the statutory deadline, but also that the Bureau had received pressure from the Commerce Department to cease seeking an extension of the deadline,” she wrote.
Koh’s preliminary injunction suspended that end-of-the-year deadline, giving Census Bureau statisticians time to crunch the numbers for apportionment from the start of November until the end of next April, for the time being.
Previously, the Census Bureau had only half that time for data processing, from the start of October until the end of December.
The San Jose, Calif.-based judge earlier this month issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Census Bureau from winding down field operations until she ruled.
Attorneys for the Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce said Friday they would file an appeal and asked the judge to suspend the injunction while that happens.
“Were the Bureau to miss these deadlines, Congress could well decide to disregard the 2020 census results in conducting apportionment, as it previously did for the 1920 census,” the attorneys for the federal government said in court papers.
Wilkes County held the same position as last month in the ranking of North Carolina counties for 2020 Census response rates, according to the latest data released Sept. 20 by the U.S. Census Bureau.
As of Sept. 20, Wilkes ranked 46th out of the state’s 100 counties in level of response to the census so far with a 59.9% response rate. That means 59.9% of households had answered the census questionnaire for household occupancy on Census Day (April 1).
Wilkes ranked 46th in the state on Aug. 19, 44th on July 20, 43rd on June 22, 41st on May 18, 59th on April 27 and 67th on March 30.
The latest response rates of Wilkes and adjacent counties are Iredell, 67.5%; Alexander, 65.8%; Caldwell, 66.0%; Yadkin, 64.9%; Surry, 61.4%; Wilkes, 59.9%; Ashe, 50.4%; Watauga, 44.8%. and Alleghany, 43.2%. Watauga and Alleghany swapped positions from Aug. 19.
The latest data show that 59.9% of households in Wilkes and 62.2% of households statewide had responded. That gap of 2.3% between Wilkes and the state was slightly wider than the 2.1% gap on Aug. 19.
North Carolina’s 62.2% response rate is lower than the national average of 66.0%. The state ranks 37th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for census response so far, after rising as high as 33rd earlier. It’s the state’s lowest ranking since April.
As of Sept. 20, North Carolina was ranked ahead of three southeastern states with previously higher self-response rates (Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia), but was still lagging behind Virginia (70.5%), Kentucky (67.6%), Tennessee (65.3%), Florida (62.8%) and Alabama (62.6%).
In Wilkes, 40.6% of households have responded to the census online and 19.3% have responded via phone or mail, according to the data released Sept. 20. Among all households in North Carolina, 48.6% have responded online and 13.6% have responded via phone or mail.
As of Sept. 20, North Carolina’s top-five counties in census response so far were Union (73.7%), Wake (72.0%), Orange (71.9%), Davie (70.6%) and Chatham (69.8%). The bottom five were Dare (36.3%), Swain (35.8%), Jackson (35.6%), Graham (33.9%) and Avery (31.9%). Wake and Orange switched positions since Aug. 19.
Among the 14 census tracts in Wilkes, the top five response rates as of Aug. 19 were 9608.02 (western Wilkesboro along the U.S. 421 corridor; 66.5%); 9603 (eastern North Wilkesboro and Hays, 65.4%); 9601 (Ronda and western Elkin, 64.6%); 9612 (southeastern Wilkes, 63.8%) and 9604 (Mulberry and north-central Wilkes, 61.4%).
As of Sept. 20, tracts 9611 (eastern Wilkesboro and southern North Wilkesboro) and 9609 (western Wilkes) had the county’s two lowest response rates at 55.4% and 47.9%, respectively. They have been the bottom two for several months.
The U.S. Census Bureau target group with the best response rate so far in Wilkes was again the four tracts with an immigrant (foreign-born) population of 2.9% to 5.7%. That group had an average response rate of 62.6%. The four tracts were not identified with tract numbers.
The Wilkes target group with the lowest response rate (56.7%) was the six tracts in which children ages 0-4 made up less than 4.1% of those counted. These tracts also weren’t identified with tract numbers.
Wilkes County’s final response rates in prior censuses were 67.0% in 1990, 63.0% in 2000 and 62.7% in 2010.