Court Strikes Down Census Bureau's Statistical Sampling Plan
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Aug. 24) - A federal court has thrown out the Census Bureau's plan to use statistical sampling, as opposed to a traditional person-by-person headcount, for the 2000 census.
The sampling method was designed to improve the accuracy of the dicennial exercise, widely criticized for undercounting minorities.
A special three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington ruled on a lawsuit filed in February by Republican members of Congress who
argued that a 1957 federal law prohibited sampling from being used for
congressional apportionment, one of the chief reasons for a census.
The judges ruled that the Census Bureau could use sampling for much of the demographic information-gathering other than congressional reapportionment.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) called the decision "a tremendous victory for every American." Gingrich criticized the Clinton Adminstration's support for statistical sampling as an "illegal and unconstitutional scheme to manipulate the Census for the express purposes of political gain."
The methodology is a critical issue since the census, which is only done every ten years, determines how much federal money is spent and where, as well as how many Congressional representatives each state will have.
The House Republicans who filed suit against the Department of Commerce, the governmental parent of the Census Bureau, cited a 1957 law, designed at the time to update and expand the work of the Census Bureau, which said sampling can be used "except for the determination of population for apportionment purposes.
The Census Bureau, which was joined in its defense by Democratic members of Congress, the city of Los Angeles, and other groups, tried to prove that a 1976 amendment to that law leaves it to the discretion of the bureau as to how they count the population.
African-American and Latino groups say headcounts like the 1990 census undercount their true numbers because urban populations are hard to reach, and people don't always trust the motives of census-takers -- government employees paid to ask personal questions.
Proponents of the sampling method say that, with modern computerized techniques, poor people, who have been more difficult to count in person, will be better represented in the 2000 census.
A significant increase in Black or Hispanic population totals could shift the balance of political power in Congress in favor of Democrats.
CNN Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said, "What it could do is, it could take Congressional districts away from Southern and certain Midwestern States and give them to the Northeast and Upper Midwest."
Appeals to the Circuit and Supreme Courts are likely, but time is a factor since the census deadline is looming.