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Judge temporarily halts efforts to end census count early

The ruling is the first in a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration's plans to wind down the count a month early. Democrat-led Harris County joined the challenge last month.

United States Census 2020 mailers sent to Austin. Photographed on June 23, 2020.

A federal judge on Saturday ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to halt its plans to wind down operations a month early.

The temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh was the first ruling in a lawsuit brought last month by voting and civil rights groups and Democrat-led local governments, including Harris County, challenging a Trump Administration order to wind down the once-per-decade population count by the end of September. It says that the Census Bureau and Commerce Department, which oversees the agency, must continue operations as planned until a Sept. 17 hearing where Koh will decide whether the count may continue until the original Oct. 31 deadline.

The bureau announced in early August that it moved up the deadline for citizens to respond to Sept. 30. A coalition led by the National Urban League and the League of Women Voters swiftly challenged the decision in court, alleging that the shortened schedule will not produce an accurate count of the U.S. population. The count dictates the distribution of federal funding and reapportionment of congressional seats.

Harris County, which invested $4 million in boosting census outreach, quickly signed onto the lawsuit.

In her order, Koh wrote that “the balance of the hardships and public interest tipped sharply in the Plantiffs' favor” as it's in the public interest to distribute funds and reapportion fairly on the basis of accurate data.

In a statement, the Census Bureau said it is obligated to comply with the order and is preparing additional guidance, which it will distribute shortly.

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