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Judge orders government to release adjusted census figures

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Freedom of Information         Mar 1, 2002    

Judge orders government to release adjusted census figures

  • A federal judge in California ruled that several congressional Democrats are entitled to see adjusted census numbers.

A judge in California ruled last month that the Census Bureau must hand over adjusted census numbers that several Congressional Democrats have been requesting. The members of the U.S. House of Representatives said both Congress and the public have a right to the information.

Lourdes G. Baird, U.S. District Court judge for the Central District of California, based her Jan. 18 decision on the Seven Member Rule, a federal law that requires government agencies to release information if it is requested by seven members of the House Government Reform Committee or five members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

The Seven Member Rule protects the minority party, ensuring it can obtain access to information. The majority party needs only to issue a subpoena to access information.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), a ranking member of the Government Reform Committee, is one of 17 Democrats who filed suit under the Seven Member Rule after the Census Bureau refused his initial request for the adjusted census figures. Census results determine federal funding around the country.

Waxman’s Chief of Staff, Bill Schliro, said the public has a right to the information because schools, city planning and other government responsibilities are affected by the numbers.

Michael Yeager, minority deputy chief counsel of the committee, said the Seven Member Rule will be helpful to both members of Congress and the public because more information will be available, and Congress can better serve the public.

“It will increase the breadth and quality of information Congress can get,” Yeager said. “It’s a tool for members of Congress to do their job better.”

Department of Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, named as a defendant in the suit, asked the court to reconsider its decision. A hearing is set for March 4.

A similar decision was made last year in a U.S. District Court in Oregon. Two legislators filed a suit against the U.S. Department of Commerce, hoping to gain access to adjusted census figures. U.S. District Judge James A. Redden ruled that the Department of Commerce must release the figures. The department appealed, though, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (9th Cir.) in San Francisco has yet to make a decision.

(Waxman v. Evans; Carter v. Dept. of Commerce) KG


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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