Attorneys want sanctions against DOJ over 2020 census data

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FILE – This April 5, 2020, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit. The Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Trump administration to end the 2020 census was another case of whiplash for the census, which has faced stops from the pandemic, natural disasters and court rulings. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

(AP) – Attorneys for a coalition of municipalities and advocacy groups say they plan to seek court sanctions against Trump administration attorneys for refusing to turn over data and documents about the quality of the 2020 census as part of a lawsuit over the once-a-decade count of every U.S. resident.

Attorneys for the coalition said Monday in a court filing that the Department of Justice has produced data reports for only half of the requests they have made. When Trump administration attorneys did provide information, it was buried in thousands of pages of irrelevant material such as emails for pizza and handbag advertisements and LinkedIn notifications, according to the court filing.

The attorneys for the coalition described the Trump administration’s playbook as “deny information and the existence of documents; produce dribs and drabs only when ordered or uncovered; attempt to hide as many documents as possible under exaggerated and improper claims of privilege; and do everything to try and run out the clock.”

The Department of Justice is representing the Census Bureau, and the Commerce Department, which oversees the statistical agency, in the lawsuit. A hearing on the documents was scheduled for late Monday.

In the same court filing, the Trump administration attorneys said they haven’t violated any orders to produce documents, adding that any blame should be on the coalition’s attorneys for making their requests too broad.

In some cases, the government attorneys are still working to provide the requested information. In other cases, the requests would require the Census Bureau to write new code in order to make data inquiries that would be “unduly burdensome as the employees needed to search for this data are the same employees who are trying to finish the census,” the government attorneys said.

The lawsuit in federal court in San Jose, California, was originally brought by the coalition to stop the census from ending early out of concerns that a shortened head count would cause minority communities to be undercounted. The coalition of municipalities and advocacy groups is seeking the documents to help assess the accuracy of the numbers being used for dividing congressional seats among the states and determining the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending annually.

The Census Bureau announced last week it would miss a year-end deadline for turning in the numbers used for dividing up congressional seats among the states in a process known as apportionment. The statistical agency hasn’t said when the numbers will be ready. Under the law, the Commerce Department is required to transmit the apportionment numbers to the president by Dec. 31, and the president must send the numbers to Congress by Jan. 10.

If the apportionment numbers aren’t finished before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20, it could jeopardize an effort by President Donald Trump to exclude people in the country illegally from the apportionment count. An influential GOP adviser had advocated excluding them from the apportionment process in order to favor Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

Trump’s July order on apportionment was challenged in more than a half-dozen lawsuits around the U.S., but the Supreme Court ruled last month that any challenge was premature

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

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