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Supreme Court rejects Utah challenge to census figures

Challenge to N.J. gun law also turned aside

Challenge to N.J. gun law also turned aside

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Monday rejected Utah's challenge to the way the Census Bureau counts citizens abroad, dashing the state's hope of gaining a seat in Congress at the expense of North Carolina.

The high court, without comment, upheld a lower court ruling which had rejected Utah's claim that the counting method is unconstitutional because it does not include missionaries working abroad. Utah says more than 10,000 of its citizens serve as Mormon missionaries around the world, and should have been counted in the 2000 U.S. census.

Utah officials claim that if the missionaries had been included -- as are government civilian and military employees stationed abroad -- the state's population would have increased enough that Utah, and not North Carolina, would have gained a seat in the reapportionment of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In other action Monday, the court:

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-- Agreed to decide how much lawyers can make when suing the government on behalf of the disabled. The ruling, expected next year, will affect lawyers who handle Social Security cases for people who claim they are disabled and entitled to government help.

-- Turned down a challenge to New Jersey's broad ban on semiautomatic weapons. The ban, enacted in 1991, forbids the possession, sale or transport of assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition clips. Firearms supporters had claimed the law violated their right to equal protection.

-- Refused to consider whether a judge was wrong to leave an accused killer under guard in a courtroom while prospective jurors were questioned outside in the hall. The court could have used the case to give defendants more rights to be involved in their trials.

The 1992 trade agreement among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico was approved by the House and Senate. Senate approval fell short of a two thirds majority. The lower court concluded the agreement did not constitute a treaty.

-- Declined to be drawn into a debate over the president's power in international deal making. The steelworkers' union wanted the court to strike down the North American Free Trade Agreement in a case that also questioned the constitutionality of other international deals.

In the Utah case, the state's governor argued that the counting method does not live up to the Constitution's requirement for an "actual enumeration," and discriminates among people based on what kind of work they do. Utah argued that the Census Bureau should not give federal employees special status just because they are doing their country's bidding abroad.

The method could also be an unconstitutional government intrusion on religion, because Mormons who know they will be excluded from a Census count may avoid overseas missionary work, the state's appeal argued.

The practice also opens the door to partisan mischief, Utah claimed.

In the formula used to determine House seats, Utah lost out to North Carolina, another fast-growing state by just 856 residents. The figures gave North Carolina its 13th seat and left Utah with three.

The Bush administration asked the court to dismiss the case, or to uphold a lower court's ruling against Utah.

White House attorneys countered that the Census Bureau had studied various options for counting overseas Americans, and concluded that any attempt to count more than federal employees would lead to inaccuracies and the likelihood of court challenges.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that it is constitutional to count federal employees working overseas, but that 1992 case left open the question of how to treat other Americans living abroad.

An estimated 5 million Americans were living overseas at the time of the 2000 census. About 11,000 were Mormon missionaries from Utah, where the church is based. The overseas missionary case is Utah v. Evans, 01-283.




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