NAACP Sues U.S. Commerce Department for Refusal to Disclose Records on Preparations for 2020 Census

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 5, 2017

CONTACT INFO:

Dominic Hawkins, , 516-633-9705

Malik Russell, Communications Director, NAACP

Erinma Kalu, Yale Law School Rule of Law Clinic, erinma.kalu@ylsclinics.org

Ben Alter, Yale Law School Rule of Law Clinic, benjamin.alter@ylsclinics.org

 

Understaffing and Underfunding Put Voting Rights, Federal Programs in Jeopardy

NEW HAVEN, CT., —Today, the NAACP, the NAACP Connecticut State Conference, and the NAACP Boston Branch (“NAACP”) filed a federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to compel the Commerce Department to produce records it has unlawfully withheld about preparations for the 2020 Census. Planning for the census has been disrupted by President Trump’s hiring freeze, the abrupt resignation of the head of the Census Bureau, and huge budgetary shortfalls. These developments prompted the Government Accountability Office to label the 2020 Census a “high risk program.”

In June, the NAACP requested documents relating to the Census Bureau’s plans to mitigate these risks. After having failed to produce a single record for months, the Bureau responded this week with a wholly inadequate production that did not address the majority of the NAACP’s requests.

The Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a decennial census. The government uses Census data to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, draw legislative districts, enforce voting rights, build schools, and allocate more than $400 billion in federal funds.

The Census Bureau routinely undercounts communities of color, young children, home renters, low-income persons, and rural residents,” explained Bradford M. Berry, NAACP General Counsel, “but all signs indicate that the 2020 Census will be a particularly egregious failure on this front. Is this Administration genuinely committed to a full and fair census of all persons in this country?”

“When the government withholds resources from the Census Bureau, communities of color suffer,” said Tanisha M. Sullivan, President of the NAACP Boston Branch. “Because when the Bureau does not receive the funding and staffing support it needs, there is likely decreased outreach to the communities with the least amount of access.”

“If we aren’t counted, then we don’t count—our votes are diluted, our schools go underfunded, and our community needs are ignored,” explained Scot Esdaile, President of the NAACP’s Connecticut State Conference.

“Particularly distressing is the obscurity around the Bureau’s planned digitization efforts,” said Charlotte Schwartz, a law student intern in the Rule of Law Clinic at Yale Law School, which represents the NAACP in this action. “How is the Bureau going to reach citizens without access to the Internet? Are there protections against cybersecurity threats? The public has a right to know.”

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