On August 7, 2018, the Brennan Center and co-counsel American Oversight filed a lawsuit in federal district court in D.C. to compel the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to comply with a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Brennan Center’s FOIA request pertained to a letter the DOJ sent to state election officials last year, asking for detailed information on voter list maintenance practices. The Brennan Center filed suit after the DOJ largely denied its request for documents.
On June 28, 2017, the head of DOJ’s Voting Section sent a letter to all states covered by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), requesting detailed information on the states’ policies, practices, and procedures related to voter list maintenance, including information on states’ efforts to comply with the federal statutes governing list maintenance. This letter alarmed voting rights advocates, who saw in it a possible prelude to a broader effort to force states to purge their voter rolls more aggressively.
On July 20, 2017, the Brennan Center submitted a FOIA request to DOJ seeking documents related to how and why the letter was created and what information DOJ received in response. Specifically, the Brennan Center requested two categories of information: (1) any documents that DOJ received from states in response to the letter and (2) any DOJ communications regarding the letter.
Eight months later, DOJ responded by denying the Brennan Center access to any documents related to the first part of the request and provided redacted documents to the second part – all but three pages of which had already been produced in a separate FOIA request. In response to this inadequate response, the Brennan Center appealed, requesting a more fulsome production. DOJ failed to respond, leading the Brennan Center to file suit.
In the lawsuit, the Brennan Center argues that FOIA requires DOJ to undertake a more reasonable search and a more complete production of documents responsive to the Brennan Center’s request.
On November 14, 2018, DOJ made a minor supplemental production, consisting of court documents related to a case brought by Judicial Watch and the United States (as a plaintiff-intervenor) against Kentucky, regarding that state’s compliance with the NVRA.
DOJ filed a motion for summary judgement on March 8, 2019. On April 11, 2019, the Brennan Center filed an opposition and cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing that DOJ conducted an inadequate search, improperly withheld over 20,000 pages of records, and submitted an insufficient Vaughn index describing the bases for its withholdings. The Brennan Center asks the Court to compel DOJ to conduct a new search, amend its Vaughn index, and produce improperly withheld records, on an expedited basis.
On March 25, the district court granted the Brennan Center’s motion in part and denied it in part. The Court ordered DOJ to conduct a new search for documents and to amend or supplement its Vaughn Index with respect to certain documents.
The Brennan Center is represented by American Oversight and Hogan Lovells LLP.
Brennan Center FOIA Request (July 20, 2017)
Department of Justice Response to FOIA Request (March 20, 2018)
Department of Justice Responsive Documents (March 20, 2018)
Brennan Center Appeal of FOIA Request (May 15, 2018)
Complaint (August 7, 2018)
Department of Justice Answer (September 18, 2018)
DOJ Supplemental Production (November 14, 2018)
Joint Proposed Scheduling Order (December 10, 2018)
Memorandum Opinion (March 25, 2020)