Q&A: U.S. Northern District of California Judge Lucy Koh’s Ruling on the 2020 Census

Key Takeaways: 

However encouraging Judge Koh’s ruling might seem in terms of a potential extension to the census, because of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the deadline, every New Yorker must respond to the 2020 Census now by visiting my2020census.gov or by calling 844-330-2020. 

We also need all New Yorkers to sign up to help us reach all of our fellow city residents via phone-banking. Sign up now at nyc.gov/censuscalls.

We cannot wait for the final decision to play out in the courts; our fair share of $1.5 trillion, as well as our political future, are on the line.


What’s the news?

On Thursday, September 24, Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California ruled that the Census Bureau:

  • Cannot comply with the September 30 census deadline and must revert to maintaining a deadline of October 31; and
  • Cannot comply with the current statutory December 31st deadline for reporting census data to Congress and the President. 


Statement from NYC Census 2020 Director Julie Menin on the ruling:

“Once again, the Trump Administration tried to throw up a politically insidious and illegal roadblock to stop people from filling out the census, and once again, they’ve failed spectacularly. This ruling, which will extend the census into October, and sends a clear message that the current December 31 deadline for data reporting cannot work, is a major victory in our fight to ensure New Yorkers get every ounce of the money, power, and respect to which we’re entitled,” said Julie Menin, Director of NYC Census 2020 and Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel, NYC Law Department.

What does this ruling mean in general?

  • As of September 25, the census has been technically extended until October 31, but this date must be treated with great caution.
  • This is because the federal government has appealed Judge Koh’s decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and nobody can predict the result of this appeal (or possibly even a Supreme Court hearing). 
  • As a result, there remains uncertainty regarding the final deadline for the census. 
  • Since we cannot know the outcome of the  appeal of this decision, it is imperative that we continue to send the message  that all New Yorkers must get counted now.


What about the reporting deadline?

  • Judge Koh’s order also directs the Census Bureau not to comply with the current statutory reporting deadline to submit final census data to Congress and the President -- data that is used by Congress to distribute seats in the House of Representatives, and utilized by the federal government and countless other institutions to distribute resources.
  • The order does not, however, unilaterally override the current statutory reporting deadline of December 31, 2020, as this is a deadline that only Congress can change. 
  • One reading of the language of the order’s conclusion regarding the reporting deadline could be that Congress must take action to extend the census reporting deadline into 2021 in order to give an adequate amount of time to analyze and compile the data for a complete count.


So what do we do now?

  • For now, we should keep doing all that we can to ensure that as many New Yorkers self-respond as possible.
  • Self-response is by far the most accurate and the best way to collect census data.
  • Self-response is more important now than ever -- why? Because historically, it is for those communities that have not self responded that data has been inaccurate, incomplete, and/or imputed.
  • Because census data is used to make critical decisions about funding, services, and benefits at all levels of government, it is critical that those communities that are in the greatest need are completely and accurately represented in the count.


What happens if the federal government loses its appeal?

  • Judge Koh’s ruling remains in effect, and, at the very least, the census is extended until October 31.
  • The impact of the appeal being rejected on the Census Bureau’s ability to comply with the section of Judge Koh’s ruling regarding the December 31st deadline will still remain to be seen. 


 What happens if the federal government wins its appeal?

  • The plaintiffs (National Urban League) could ask the Supreme Court for an emergency hearing.
  • If rejected, the Appellate Court’s decision will stand.
  • If the Supreme Court chooses to hear the case, there could be many results of this hearing.
  • The Supreme Court could let the Appellate Court’s ruling stand, or the Supreme Court could rule in final favor of either the plaintiffs or the defendant.
  • If the Supreme Court does, in fact, hear the case, and chooses to make a decision, and is split 4-4 in its vote, the Appellate Court’s ruling will stand. 


What’s next for NYC Census 2020?

  • For now, we will keep doing all that we can do to ensure that as many New Yorkers self-respond as possible.
  • We are going to keep all of our activities that are scheduled through Wednesday 9/30 and our contests will continue to run as scheduled.