American Oversight Sues for Records of Pandemic’s Impact on the Census

On Friday, American Oversight sued the Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce for records related to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the implementation of the 2020 census. The lawsuit came amid new reports that the Census Bureau plans to end its door-knocking outreach a month earlier than planned, potentially decreasing the accuracy of the count and benefiting President Donald Trump’s political party.

American Oversight has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Census Bureau and Department of Commerce for email communications, directives, memos, and final guidance related to the coronavirus. The group has also filed requests for communications that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and his staff had with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as with external entities like former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and representatives from voting-restriction advocacy groups including True the Vote, the Heritage Foundation, and the Public Interest Legal Foundation. 

The Census Bureau and Department of Commerce have failed to release the requested records as required by law, and today’s lawsuit filed in the federal district court in the District of Columbia seeks to enforce these requests. 

“The census was already under siege by a partisan administration before the pandemic struck America,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “The public needs confidence the Census Bureau is responding to the coronavirus threat in a manner that ensures our constitutional right to be counted is carried out properly and free from pretextual efforts to exploit the pandemic for political gain.”

The ongoing pandemic is just the latest in a series of political threats to the census under the Trump administration. Adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census — a move that experts warned would likely depress the response rate and lead to an undercount in minority communities — was one of Trump’s first initiatives as president. Though a lengthy legal fight shot down Trump’s attempt to add the question, just last week, the president signed a memorandum that would prevent undocumented residents from being counted in congressional apportionment following the census. 

Today’s lawsuit is part of American Oversight’s investigation into political interference in the 2020 census. The full complaint from today’s suit is available here.