The NAACP has revived its lawsuit alleging that the government's plans for the 2020 Census are "conspicuously deficient" and will lead to a massive undercount of communities of color.
The suit, brought by the organization's national and Prince George's County (Maryland) offices along with the county itself, says the Census Bureau's decision to scale down operations for the upcoming count will result in inaccurate data that will "dilute the votes of racial and ethnic minorities (and) deprive their communities of critical federal funds."
The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, names the bureau and its director in addition to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. It is a revised version of one the NAACP filed in March 2018. After a district court dismissed that case, an appeals court overturned some of the decision, allowing the amended suit to go forward.
It seeks to compel the bureau to spend more money, which it says Congress has already allocated, to beef up staffing, field offices and advertising in communities with high percentages of minorities and immigrants, which are typically undercounted.
A spokesman for the Census Bureau said it does not comment on ongoing or pending litigation, and the Commerce Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The decennial count is used to determine congressional representation, redistricting and hundreds of billions of dollars in annual federal funding.
Prince George's County, home to a sizable population of minorities, suffered the largest net undercount of any county in Maryland and one of the nation's largest undercounts for counties of 100,000 or more residents, according to the suit.
For 2020, the bureau slashed the number of temporary workers and field offices compared to 10 years earlier, saying digital approaches will enable it to keep costs down without harming the count. But the suit asks the court to use $1 billion it says Congress set aside for the census that the bureau has not used to bring staffing and field operations back to 2010 levels, adjusted for inflation.
The suit faces a timing challenge: The census kicks off next week in remote areas of Alaska and officially takes place nationwide on April 1. The bureau on Tuesday unveiled a massive ad campaign and said it expects to meet its hiring targets of up to 500,000 temporary employees in March, including enumerators who will follow up in the spring and summer with households that don't respond to initial outreach attempts.
Geng Ngarmboonanant, a law student intern with Yale Law School's Peter Gruber Rule of Law Clinic, which is representing the plaintiffs, said the NAACP thinks there is still time for the bureau to bolster operations, adding, "Courts have had and continue to have an important role in ensuring that the Census Bureau adheres to its constitutional obligation to conduct an actual enumeration of the people."
The Supreme Court last summer blocked the government's attempt to add a citizenship question to the census survey after several lawsuits alleged that it would lead to an undercount in immigrant communities.