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Court Orders Census Bureau to Release Adjusted Census Data

By Larry Jones
October 21, 2002


A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on October 10 that the U.S. Census Bureau must release census data which adjust the population totals for many cities to account for those missed during the last census count. Although the Bureau used scientific methods to determine that an estimated 3.2 million people were missed in the 2000 census, it has refused to published the adjusted census data due to internal concerns about accuracy. At press time, the government had not made a decision on whether or not to appeal the court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it is not appealed, the Census Bureau will be required to publish the adjusted data.

For many mayors, particularly those who feel the census missed a large portion of their constituents, the adjusted data is important because they believe it provides a more accurate count of their city's population. Without an accurate count, a city stands to lose a significant amount in both federal and state aid over the next ten years. Since last year, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and a number of mayors across the nation have been urging the Secretary of Commerce, who oversees the Census Bureau, to release the adjusted data and allow the data to be used to allocate some $185 billion in federal aid to states and localities.

The case involved two Oregon state senators: Susan Castillo and Margaret Carter who filed a suit in federal district court under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking access to the adjusted data for each jurisdiction covered in the 2000 census. The two filed the suit after the Census Bureau refused their request for the adjusted data.

During oral arguments, lawyers for the Census Bureau argued that forcing the agency to release the adjusted data would have a "chilling effect" on future policy and how the population is counted. If forced to publish the 2000 adjusted data, the Bureau will be less likely to adjust census data in the future. Lawyers further argued that the "deliberative process" privilege under Exemption 5 of the FOIA protected the adjusted data from the disclosure requirements. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, affirming a District Court ruling handed down last November which found that disclosing the adjusted data will not expose any protected deliberative process.