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Brennan Center for Justice v. U.S. Department of Justice

The Brennan Center and American Oversight have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice to compel compliance with a FOIA request seeking details on DOJ’s voter registration investigation.

Last Updated: September 22, 2020
Published: April 11, 2019

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.

Docu­ments

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)

Depart­ment of Justice Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judge­ment (March 7, 2019)

Bren­nan Center Brief in Oppos­i­tion and in Support of Cross-Motion for Summary Judge­ment (April 11, 2019)

Defend­ant’s Reply Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judg­ment (May 29, 2019)

Plaintiff’s Reply in Support of Cross-Motion for Summary Judg­ment (July 1, 2019)

Memor­andum Opin­ion (March 25, 2020)