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Pro Bono Settlement Ensures Path to Fair and Accurate US Census

April 23, 2021
Plaintiffs include historically undercounted populations who were most likely to be missed by a rushed census process: communities of color, low-income individuals, undocumented immigrants, and persons with mental and physical disabilities.

Led by a pro bono team of Latham litigators, a number of civil rights groups, civic organizations, and tribal and local governments reached a historic settlement guaranteeing a more fair and more accurate US Census. The stipulated dismissal ensures that the Census Bureau will not release rushed apportionment numbers, will not provide states with data to exclude noncitizens from redistricting, and will continue to provide key analysis and information to plaintiffs and the public about the quality of the partially shortened count under the Trump administration.

The plaintiffs filed their suit in August 2020 after the Trump administration, against the judgment of the Census Bureau’s expert staff, attempted to drastically shorten the timeline for census data collection and processing efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The suit alleged that the Trump administration’s actions violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act and the US Constitution and threatened long-term harm in myriad ways, given that census figures are used to reapportion the US House of Representatives; redraw congressional, state and local electoral districts; and distribute more than US$1.5 trillion annually in federal funds for education, food, healthcare, and other needs. The lawsuit also alleged that the speed-up was designed to facilitate an illegal Executive Order that sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from the congressional apportionment. 

In an unrelenting concentrated period involving dozens of briefs and hearings, Latham secured a series of victories in the US district court, without which Census field operations would have terminated at the end of September. In a notable federal district court ruling in early October 2020, the court concluded: “Defendants’ dissemination of erroneous information; lurching from one hasty, unexplained plan to the next; and unlawful sacrifices of completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census are upending the status quo, violating the Injunction Order, and undermining the credibility of the Census Bureau and the 2020 Census. This must stop.” As a result, the Census Bureau continued its count into October, weeks beyond the date the Bureau originally sought to end its count. Through hearing after hearing, Latham kept the spotlight on the Census Bureau while it worked to finalize the numbers used for apportionment and redistricting. 

In April 2021, the US district court issued a stipulated order guaranteeing that:

  • The Census Bureau will continue to process the population numbers for congressional apportionment on an appropriate full timeline and will release those numbers no earlier than April 26, 2021.
  • The Census Bureau will include everyone, regardless of citizenship status, in population numbers for congressional apportionment and state-level redistricting. 
  • The Census Bureau has acknowledged that the “illegal alien” citizenship data it was preparing for the Trump administration is statistically unfit for use in apportionment and redistricting. 
  • The Census Bureau will continue, with the assistance of third parties, to assess the data it obtained during the partially truncated data collection period under the Trump administration — and will provide plaintiffs and the public critical information and bi-monthly reports on its reviews of the quality of the 2020 Census data for the next year.

The plaintiffs in National Urban League v. Raimondo (formerly National Urban League v. Ross) are membership and advocacy organizations, counties, cities, federally recognized Indian tribes, and individuals representing a broad swath of US residents, including historically undercounted populations who were most likely to be missed by a rushed census process: communities of color, low-income individuals, undocumented immigrants, and persons with mental and physical disabilities.

“Every person deserves to be counted — and we are gratified to have been a part of this remarkable coalition’s critical fight to secure a fair and accurate census for all,” said Sadik Huseny and Melissa Arbus Sherry, the Latham partners who jointly led the litigation. “We thank the Department of Justice for its efforts, throughout the last few months, to bring this case to an appropriate resolution. And more than anything, we are immensely thankful for and humbled by the incredible around-the-clock efforts of the court, the court’s chambers, and the many other judges in the district who assisted under intense time pressure to provide the many detailed and thoughtful rulings in this case.”

In addition to Sadik Huseny and Melissa Arbus Sherry, the team includes partners Steve Bauer, Rick Bress, and Anne Robinson, with associates Amit Makker, Shannon Lankenau, Tyce Walters, Gemma Donofrio, Katherine Rouse, Christine Smith, Charlie Sprague, Wesley Tiu, Jack Siddoway, Robbie Hemstreet, Liz Gluzman, and Greg Conyers; paralegals Uche Anikwe, Karen Patterson, Karin Sanders, and Monique Handy-Jones; and professional staff Linda Tam, Andrea Casalett, Wendy Edwards, Ida Caridad, Katey White, Rob Utley, and many more.