The NAACP is suing the Commerce Department under provisions in the Freedom of Information Act, after the department failed to hand over information the NAACP requested in June about Census Bureau efforts to organize the 2020 census.
The Commerce Department — according to the complaint filed by the NAACP, the NAACP Connecticut State Conference and the NAACP Boston Branch — is unlawfully withholding records about the Census Bureau's plans to mitigate risks in the 2020 census as identified by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO has labeled the 2020 census as a "high-risk" program, and the NAACP fears census planning has been disrupted by President Trump's hiring freeze, the resignation of the Census Bureau's head and budget shortfalls. More than three months after the NAACP requested the documents, the Commerce Department has yet to turn over a single document, the NAACP said.
The NAACP points out that the government uses census data to determine the number of seats in the U.S. House, determine legislative districts and allocate federal funds, and the NAACP worries inaccurate figures could disproportionately hurt minorities, low income people and rural residents, among other demographics.
"Given the scale, cost and impact of the census, the public has an overwhelming interest in ensuring that its count is accurate and fair," the complaint said. "And given the Census Bureau's history of undercounting minorities, transparency is of particular importance to plaintiffs, as well as to their tens of thousands of members."
The Freedom of Information Act gives federal agencies 20 days to provide a response to requesters, with some exemptions on information that can be withheld and provisions for the agency to extend that deadline.
Bradford Berry, NAACP general counsel, said "all signs indicate" the upcoming census will be a "particularly egregious failure" in some regards.
"The Census Bureau routinely undercounts communities of color, young children, home renters, low-income persons, and rural residents, but all signs indicate that the 2020 Census will be a particularly egregious failure on this front," Berry said in a statement. "Is this administration genuinely committed to a full and fair census of all persons in this country?"
The NAACP's full complaint can be read here.