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NAACP v. Bureau of the Census

The NAACP sued the Census Bureau. The suit contended that the Bureau’s inadequate preparations for the 2020 Census will lead to a dramatic undercount of communities of color and a violation of the government’s constitutional duty to conduct a full national headcount.

Last Updated: April 21, 2020
Published: August 5, 2019

Note: The Brennan Center is not a participant in this case.

Summary 

The NAACP sued the Census Bureau. The suit contended that the Bureau’s inadequate preparations for the 2020 Census would lead to a dramatic undercount of communities of color and a violation of the government’s constitutional duty to conduct a full national head count.   

Case Background

The NAACP, Prince George’s County (Maryland), the Prince George’s County Branch of the NAACP, and two of the county’s residents filed a constitutional action against the Census Bureau, the Acting Director of the Bureau, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and President Donald Trump. The plaintiffs’ suit alleged that the Bureau’s funding shortfalls, understaffing, inadequate planning, and insufficient testing of new technology, among other things, would produce a severe undercount of communities of color. This undercount, the plaintiffs contended, would violate the Constitution’s Enumeration Clause, which requires the federal government to perform an “actual enumeration” of all people living in the United States.

The plaintiffs sought a court order requiring the Census Bureau to develop a plan to ensure that the upcoming census fully accounts for the nation’s communities of color and other hard-to-count populations.

On January 29, 2019, the court denied the government's motion to dismiss, allowing the plaintiffs to proceed on their Enumeration Clause claim. 

On August 1, 2019, the district court dismissed the second amended complaint and held that the plaintiffs' Enumeration Clause claim had become moot after Congress passed an appropriations bill in February 2019. 

On August 6, 2019, the plaintiffs filed an appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, asking the court to review the district court's decision and expedite their appeal.

On December 19, 2019, a panel of Fourth Circuit judges reversed the district's court's opinion in part and remanded the case back to the district court to reconsider the plaintiffs' Enumeration Clause claims.

On January 1, 2020, the Plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in the district court, requesting that the court order the Census Bureau to increase outreach in hard-to-count communities, among other things. On March 5, 2020, the district court denied that request for a preliminary injunction. 

On April 16, 2020, the district court granted the Census Bureau’s request to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ Enumeration Clause claims. 

Documents 

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Case No. 19-1863)