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Thursday, April 4, 2019

NAACP and Rule of Law Clinic File New Challenge to 2020 Census Plans

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Prince George’s County, Maryland, and other plaintiffs filed new claims on Monday challenging parts of the U.S. Census Bureau’s final plan for conducting the 2020 Census — one year before the government is legally required to count the whole population. The Rule of Law Clinic at Yale Law School represents the plaintiffs, alongside Jenner & Block and the NAACP Office of the General Counsel.

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in their preexisting lawsuit in federal district court in Maryland, which seeks to ensure that the 2020 Census will comply with the constitutional obligation to count people of all races fairly and accurately.

The lawsuit was amended to add claims under the Administrative Procedure Act against the final version of the 2020 Census Operational Plan, which the Census Bureau published in February. According to the amended complaint, the Operational Plan is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the Constitution because it includes irrational decisions that will lead to a severe undercount, especially of people of color.

“The 2020 Census is fast approaching, but there is still an opportunity to set the census on the right path,” said Daniel Ki ’21, a law student intern in the Rule of Law Clinic. “A court order correcting the irrational decisions identified in today’s complaint will go a long way toward promoting accuracy and equality.”

In January, the plaintiffs won a major ruling when Judge Paul Grimm of the District of Maryland refused to dismiss the case, allowing the plaintiffs to proceed to discovery and potentially trial on their constitutional claim regarding underfunding of the census. The court subsequently granted permission for the plaintiffs to file the amended complaint challenging the new Operational Plan.

The amended complaint comes at a critical time in the decennial census cycle. The Census Bureau’s publication of the final Operational Plan marked a transition from the planning stage of the 2020 Census to the operational stage. The filing date of the amended complaint — April 1, 2019 — fell exactly one year before 2020 Census Day, the date for which the 2020 Census will attempt to capture a snapshot of the population.

“A severe, unequal undercount means our communities won’t get the political representation and funding they deserve,” said Bradford M. Berry, General Counsel of the NAACP. “Today we continue our efforts to hold the government to its obligation to come up with a reasonable plan to count the whole country equitably. Their plan does not do that.”

The Rule of Law Clinic was founded at Yale Law School in the fall of 2016 to protect the rule of law against contemporary challenges. The clinic focuses on maintaining U.S. rule of law and human rights commitments in four areas: national security, antidiscrimination, climate change, and democracy promotion. The students working on the census case are Rachel Brown ’20, Casey Gilfoil ’21, Daniel Ki ’21, Nikita Lalwani ’20, Abby Olson ’19, Joe Schottenfeld ’19, Charlotte Schwartz ’19, Jeff Zalesin ’19, and Josh Zoffer ’20.