Baldrige v. Shapiro
In Baldrige v. Shapiro, 455 U.S. 345, 360, 102 S.Ct. 1103, 1112, 71 L.Ed.2d 199 (1982), two municipalities sued the Department of Commerce, seeking to obtain from the Census Bureau raw census data - including individual respondents' questionnaires - to challenge the results of the 1980 census.
Section 8(b) of the Census Act, 13 U.S.C. 8(b), provided in relevant part that "the Secretary of Commerce may furnish copies of tabulations and other statistical materials which do not disclose information reported by, or on behalf of, any particular respondent." Section 9(a) of the Act, 13 U.S.C. 9(a), provided that: Neither the Secretary, nor any other officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof, may, except as provided in section 8 of this title -
(3) permit anyone other than the sworn officers and employees of the Department or bureau or agency thereof to examine the individual reports.
The Court recognized that the discovery rules "encourage open exchange of information," and quoted the admonition in St. Regis Paper Co. v. United States, 368 U.S. 208, 218, 82 S.Ct. 289, 295, 7 L.Ed.2d 240 (1961) to avoid construing statutes to suppress otherwise competent evidence. 455 U.S. at 360, 102 S.Ct. at 1112.
The Court nevertheless held that the "unambiguous language of the confidentiality provisions," id. at 355, 102 S.Ct. at 1110, barred discovery of the protected information:
Congress, of course, can authorize disclosure in executing its constitutional obligation to conduct a decennial census. But until Congress alters its clear provisions under 8(b) and 9(a) of the Census Act, its mandate is to be followed by the courts. Id. at 362, 102 S.Ct. at 1113.
The Court noted that Congress's purpose in barring disclosure was to promote the success and accuracy of the census by assuring the public that responses would be kept confidential, and that "disclosure by way of civil discovery would undermine the very purpose of confidentiality contemplated by Congress." Id. at 361, 102 S.Ct. at 1113.
The Constitution expressly authorizes Congress to conduct a census "as they shall by Law direct," U.S. CONST. art. I, 2, cl. 3, and the Court concluded that Congress's "wisdom" in barring all disclosure of individual information "is not for us to decide in light of Congress' 180 years' experience with the census process." Id.