BALDRIGE V. SHAPIRO, 455 U. S. 345 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Baldrige v. Shapiro, 455 U.S. 345 (1982)

Baldrige v. Shapiro

No. 80-1436

Argued December 2, 1981

Decided February 24, 1982*

455 U.S. 345


These cases present the question whether lists of addresses collected and utilized by the Bureau of the Census are exempt from disclosure, either by way of civil discovery or the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), under the confidentiality provisions of the Census Act, 13 U.S.C. §§ 8 and 9. Section 8(b) allows the Secretary of Commerce to reveal statistical materials "which do not disclose the information reported by, or on behalf of, any particular respondent." Section 9(a) prohibits the Secretary from using the information furnished except for statistical purposes, and from making any publication "whereby the data furnished by any particular establishment or individual . . . can be identified"; it also prohibits examination of individual reports by "anyone other than the sworn officers and employees of the Department or bureau or agency thereof." The 1980 census indicated that the areas of Essex County, N.J., and Denver, Colo., among others, had lost population during the 1970's. Both localities challenged the census count under the Census Bureau's local review procedures, asserting that the Bureau had erroneously classified occupied dwellings as vacant and seeking unsuccessfully to obtain access to a portion of the address lists used by the Bureau in conducting its count in their respective jurisdictions. In No. 80-1436, the Essex County Executive filed suit in Federal District Court to compel disclosure under the FOIA of the Bureau's master address list, compiled initially from commercial mailing address lists and census postal checks, and updated through direct responses to census questionnaires, canvassing by Bureau personnel, and in some instances a cross-check with the 1970 census data. The District Court held that the FOIA required disclosure of the requested information. The court rejected the contention that the confidentiality provisions of the Census Act constitute a statutory exception to disclosure within the meaning of Exemption 3 of the FOIA, which provides that disclosure need not be made as to information "specifically exempted from disclosure by statute" if the statute affords the agency no discretion on disclosure, or establishes particular criteria

Page 455 U. S. 346

for withholding the data, or refers to the particular types of material to be withheld. The Court of Appeals affirmed. In No. 80-1781, Denver officials filed suit in Federal District Court, seeking a preliminary injunction to require the Bureau's cooperation with the city in verifying its vacancy data. The District Court granted the city's discovery request for vacancy information contained in the Bureau's updated master address registers. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, relying on the language of the Census Act and Congress' intent to protect census information.


1. The requested information in No. 80-1436 is not subject to disclosure under the FOIA. Pp. 455 U. S. 352-359.

(a) To stimulate public cooperation necessary for an accurate census -- providing a basis for apportioning Representatives among the states in Congress, serving an important function in the allocation of federal grants to states based on population, and also providing important data for Congress and ultimately for the private sector -- Congress has provided assurances that information furnished by individuals is to be treated as confidential. Title 13 U.S.C. §§ 8(b) and 9(a) explicitly provide for nondisclosure of certain census data, and no discretion is provided to the Census Bureau on whether or not to disclose such data. Thus, §§ 8(b) and 9(a) qualify as withholding statutes under Exemption 3 of the FOIA. Pp. 455 U. S. 353-355.

(b) The unambiguous language of the confidentiality provisions of the Census Act -- focusing on the "information" or "data" that constitutes the statistical computation -- as well as the Act's legislative history, indicates that Congress contemplated that raw data reported by or on behalf of individuals, not just the identity of the individuals, was to be held confidential, and not available for disclosure. The master address list sought by Essex County is part of the raw census data intended by Congress to be protected under the Act. And under the Act's clear language, it is not relevant that municipalities seeking data will use it only for statistical purposes. Pp. 455 U. S. 355-359.

2. Nor is the requested information in No. 80-1781 subject to disclosure under the discovery provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 26(b)(1), if requested information is privileged, it may be withheld even if relevant to the lawsuit and essential to the establishment of plaintiff's claim. A privilege may be created by statute, and the strong policy of nondisclosure under the confidentiality provisions of the Census Act indicates that Congress intended such provisions to constitute a "privilege" within the meaning of the Federal Rules. Pp. 455 U. S. 360-362.

Page 455 U. S. 347

No. 80-1436, 636 F.2d 1210, reversed; No. 80-1781, 644 F.2d 844, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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