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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.


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. 


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