CLC v. Bureau of the Census (FOIA Delay suit)


At a Glance

CLC filed suit against the U.S. Census Bureau under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking access to documents about the Bureau’s efforts to use state driver-license records to help estimate how many adult U.S. citizens live on each census block in the nation.

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About this Case

CLC filed this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to provide transparency about the Census Bureau’s current effort to obtain state driver-license records and use those records to produce statistics on the nation’s citizen voting-age population (CVAP). In the 2021 round of redistricting, state and local governments will likely debate whether to use the Census Bureau’s CVAP estimates for redistricting. Heading into this debate, the public needs full information about the Bureau’s process to assess how inaccurate the CVAP estimates are likely to be.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, initially sought to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire. After the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the citizenship question, President Donald Trump directed the Bureau to collect individuals’ citizenship information from existing government records instead.

Following these instructions, the Bureau intensified its efforts to collect state and federal records about individuals. Among other things, the Bureau began asking states to share their driver-license records. The Bureau plans to use citizenship information from these records to help determine whether individuals are U.S. citizens.

CLC is concerned that this plan is a recipe for inaccurate CVAP data. Citizenship information in state driver-license records is often outdated, as CLC has shown proved in Texas when a CLC lawsuit protected newly naturalized citizens from a reckless voter purge initiated by the Secretary of State. To the extent the Bureau relies on these records, it will likely mischaracterize many U.S. citizens as non-U.S. citizens.

In October 2019, CLC filed a FOIA request to investigate why the Bureau wants driver-license records, how expansive the Bureau’s request for these records is and what decisions the Bureau has made about the role these records will play in compiling citizenship data. 

As of March 2020, the Census Bureau had produced no records in response to CLC’s request, even though the legal deadline to do so had passed. CLC therefore filed suit to compel the Bureau to produce the responsive records.

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District Court
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