Census 2020: Focus on the Real Work in Communities, Not the Legal/Political Morass

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Census 2020: Focus on the Real Work in Communities, Not the Legal/Political Morass
By Tim Delaney, President & CEO, National Council of Nonprofits

The two weeks following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 28 ruling that the controversial citizenship question cannot be added to the 2020 census questionnaire has been a wild rollercoaster ride for anyone trying to track what’s been happening. 

When reading the Court’s decision, it was easy to predict that the legal contortions and political machinations would continue, even though the particular twists and turns of this “stranger than fiction” fiasco were unknown. That’s why in this piece, What the U.S. Supreme Court’s Census Decision Means for Nonprofits, written for Nonprofit Quarterly the day after the Court ruled, I urged nonprofits to keep focused on preparing their communities for the actual census count and not be distracted by all the shenanigans that would keep occurring. 

The article gives a high-level overview of the Supreme Court’s 92-page decision. But, knowing the importance of completing the census preparatory work in the field and anticipating more swirling chaos, the article does two other things. First, it explains why nonprofits have a stake in the census count (pulling the key practical arguments of dollars, data, and democracy from the amicus brief the National Council of Nonprofits wrote for the U.S. Supreme Court to express the voices of everyday nonprofits opposing the improper question). Getting such practical information dispersed (as opposed to a partisan framing that can alienate a lot of people) will help the public understand why having a fair and accurate census is important. Second, the article identifies three specific steps every nonprofit can take. 

Yes, there are active cases in federal district courts in California, Maryland, and New York concerning the 2020 census – and possibly more lawsuits as additional diversionary tactics unfurl. But with so much at stake for people and communities across the country, this is no time for people to stop to watch the sideshows. The 2020 census will happen. Let’s focus our energy now on what’s in our own spheres of influence to make sure the 2020 census is fair, accurate, and complete.

Post Script – For those who don’t want to stop and gawk, but do want to know generally what has been happening:  On July 2, both the Commerce Secretary and the Department of Justice defending his actions conceded in writing that the question would not be added and that the printing of census forms had begun on July 1- something the government repeatedly had been telling the trial and appellate courts, including the Supreme Court: that everything had to be resolved by no later than June 30. The next day, however, the President tweeted otherwise, prompting immediate actions and proceedings on July 5 in the ongoing lawsuits challenging the question in federal district courts in both Maryland and New York. That weekend, DOJ announced that the entire team of career government lawyers who had been representing the government would be replaced. But when the paperwork was filed, the judges in all three federal district courts denied the requests and demanded more information about why (as the rules require). Then, well, who knows what’s happened in the last few minutes?! 

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