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Brennan Center and Protect Democracy v. Department of Justice et al.

The Brennan Center and Protect Democracy filed suit to compel the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of Management and Budget to disclose information pertaining to the president’s “Election Integrity” Commission.

Published: May 23, 2019

On August 21, 2017 the Bren­nan Center and Protect Demo­cracy filed a federal lawsuit in New York to compel the Depart­ment of Justice, Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity, General Services Admin­is­tra­tion, and the Office of Manage­ment and Budget to disclose inform­a­tion to which the public is entitled pertain­ing to the pres­id­ent’s “Elec­tion Integ­rity” Commis­sion. The organ­iz­a­tions filed suit after their requests to the agen­cies under the Free­dom of Inform­a­tion Act (FOIA) went unanswered.

Pres­id­ent Trump launched the Commis­sion in May 2017, follow­ing months of unfoun­ded claims that voter fraud and noncit­izen voting were rampant in the 2016 elec­tion. Vice Pres­id­ent Mike Pence was the Commis­sion’s chair, and Kansas Secret­ary of State Kris Kobach — a known promoter of voting restric­tions and the myth of voter fraud — was the vice chair.

The Commis­sion met in-person for the first time on July 19. Prior to this meet­ing, Kobach sent letters to chief state elec­tion offi­cials request­ing they submit “publicly-avail­able data from state voter rolls.” Twenty-one states declined to provide any data, citing legal restric­tions, privacy concerns, and uncer­tainty about how the inform­a­tion would be used.  

Follow­ing numer­ous lawsuits and contro­ver­sies, Pres­id­ent Donald Trump disban­ded the Commis­sion on Janu­ary 3, 2018. After the Commis­sion disban­ded, and news reports indic­ated that DHS would continue the Commis­sion’s efforts, plaintiffs filed addi­tional FOIA requests to determ­ine the extent of these efforts. Subsequently, plaintiffs filed a motion to compel the Court to require these agen­cies produce docu­ments respons­ive to their requests. On April 30, 2019, the Court gran­ted that motion, enter­ing partial summary judg­ment in favor of the Bren­nan Center and Protect Demo­cracy. The Court ordered DHS and OMB to widen their searches, as well as search the personal emails of two DOJ offi­cials and relev­ant others.

The Bren­nan Center and Protect Demo­cracy argue that the public is legally entitled to inform­a­tion about the Commis­sion, which has released very few details about its oper­a­tions, meth­ods, or inten­tions. In their FOIAs, plaintiffs had reques­ted all commu­nic­a­tions and docu­ments relat­ing to the Commis­sion and its members, or any similar effort to estab­lish a body to study voter fraud.

Court Docu­ments