The Census Bureau will wrap up the 2020 count on Thursday, it said in a statement hours after the Supreme Court approved its request to suspend a lower court order to keep counting through the end of the month.
The agency said late Tuesday it would accept responses online through Oct. 15 "until 11:59 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time," or 6 a.m. EDT on Oct. 16. The agency also set Oct. 15 as the postmark deadline for paper forms, as well the deadline for collecting phone responses and ending the door knocking phase at unresponsive households.
The details came after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Trump administration’s request to wrap up the count early, in part because its effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment results. The administration was challenged by plaintiffs who pointed to internal Census Bureau warnings that shortening the count would tank its accuracy.
The justices did not note the reasons for granting the stay. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent, argued that granting the stay risked an inaccurate census
“The harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years,” Sotomayor wrote.
Mike Feuer, city attorney for Los Angeles, one of the litigants in the case, said in a tweet that the ruling will "result in a less accurate Census — unduly predicated on guesswork rather than actual counting — with fair political representation and crucial federal funding at risk for cities like LA."
With the high court’s ruling, the administration was given permission to wind down the in-person count that previously employed more than 200,000 temporary workers across the country. The administration had argued the end-of-year deadline for apportionment results eclipses any concerns about the accuracy of the count.
"As a factual matter, the partial stay will still require the government to violate the statutory deadline, and as a legal matter, it is irreconcilable with the district court’s rationale for issuing any injunction in the first place," according to the appeal filed by the Justice Department.
The path to the high court began in March, when the Census Bureau shut down many operations due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the agency originally requested that Congress pass legislation to extend a statutory Dec. 31 deadline by 120 days so the agency could deliver apportionment data to the president by the end of next April and detailed legislative mapmaking data to states by the end of next July.
That schedule changed around the time President Donald Trump signed a memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment. Trump signed the memo in July, but that effort has since been halted amid a separate Supreme Court battle.
The administration stopped pursuing a deadline extension right after Trump issued the memo. In August, the Census Bureau announced it would stop in-person counting efforts by Sept. 30 so it could deliver the apportionment totals to Trump by the end of the year.
In addition to congressional apportionment, census results are used to draw legislative maps, guide $1.5 trillion in federal spending annually and in thousands of business decisions.
Plaintiffs, led by the National Urban League, have argued a shortened count violates federal law, even if it complies with the statutory deadline. They said the Census Bureau ignored concerns that the shortened count would unacceptably hurt its accuracy.
U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California agreed. Last month, she ordered the government to continue counting beyond its preferred Sept. 30 deadline.
A 9th Circuit decision last week found that reversing Koh’s injunction would effectively end the case and allow the government to conclude the count. The government then filed a Supreme Court petition to overturn the stay while the case runs through the full appellate process.