Originally Published in The Hill
Justine Coleman - September 30, 2020
A federal judge has begun contempt proceedings against Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross over his allegedly defying her order to continue census collection until the end of next month.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, appointed by former President Obama, initiated contempt of court proceedings during a Tuesday hearing, accusing the Department of Commerce of disobeying her previous order, Bloomberg News reported. She set a hearing for the proceedings for Friday.
The launch of contempt proceedings came after the U.S. Census Bureau and Ross announced on Twitter that Oct. 5 was the “target date” to finish self-response and field data collection operations on the 2020 census.
Koh said that Ross and the department were “doing exactly” what she ordered officials not to do last week, when she issued a preliminary injunction preventing the administration from ending the census before the scheduled Oct. 31.
August Flentje, an attorney for the Commerce Department, expressed frustration about her order to provide administrative documentation on why Ross designated Oct. 5 as a “target date.”
“To call this a contempt situation is not reasonable,” Flentje said, according to Bloomberg News. “We need significant time to address something that weighty.”
He also countered Koh’s labeling as a "decision" Ross announcing the Oct. 5 target date, saying it instead reflects the “contingency planning for the re-imposition of the December 31st date.”
Koh responded that it doesn’t matter if it’s called a “pickle” or a “banana.”
“I’m not invested in what you call it, but I think it’s inconsistent with what I ordered last Thursday,” she said.
The Department of Commerce did not immediately return a request for comment.
Several activist and civil rights groups have sued Ross and the administration after it was announced that the census would wrap up on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 31. The activists argued the shortened timeline would lead to an undercount of minority populations.
The Trump administration appealed Koh’s decision last week to a higher court.
The conflict arose when Ross abruptly announced last month that the counting deadline for the census would be moved a month earlier than expected. The secretary adjusted the deadline to report numbers to the president to Dec. 31, instead of the April 2021 planned date.
The Government Accountability Office released a report last month saying officials’ decision to push forward the data collection deadline put the 2020 census at higher risk of being inaccurate.
The administration has also faced legal setbacks over President Trump's executive order that sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count for the purpose of apportioning congressional districts. A federal court ruled the order unlawful earlier this month.