SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court decided Wednesday to let stand a preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration from shutting down the census count early in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that stopping the Census Bureau’s count now “risks undermining” its mission.

“Given the extraordinary importance of the census, it is imperative that the Bureau conduct the census in a manner that is most likely to produce a workable report in which the public can have confidence,” wrote Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson, a Clinton appointee, for the majority.

The coronavirus outbreak severely disrupted the census count this year. The bureau, which is part of the Department of Commerce, had to suspend field operations in March, and when they resumed it was unable to recruit enough temporary employees to work in the field.

In early August, the Trump administration ordered the bureau to complete its field work and data collection by Sept. 30.

A group of civil rights groups and local governments, including Los Angeles County, challenged the speedup. A federal district judge in August blocked it, saying the Trump administration knew that suspending operations a month early would lead to an inaccurate count.


Judge Patrick J. Bumatay, a Trump appointee, dissented, arguing the lower court lacked the authority to issue an injunction.

“Nearly every American’s plans this year have been roiled by the virus,” Bumatay wrote. “But it cannot roil the law.”

The 9th Circuit will continue to consider the government’s appeal of the lower court’s decision. The government may appeal the panel’s decision within the 9th Circuit or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.


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