Department of Commerce v. United States House of Representatives

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In Doc v. United States House of Representatives, 525 U.S. 316 (1999), the Supreme Court affirmed that the Census Bureau's proposed use of sampling in the Census of 2000 was prohibited under the Census Act.

Contents

Background

The Census bureau proposed the use of two types of sampling in Census 2000 to remedy the undercounting of certain groups of people. The first, Nonresponse Followup (NRFU) program divides people who have not responded by mail into tracts of about 4000 individuals with "homogenous population characteristics, economic status, and living conditions." "The Bureau would then visit a randomly selected sample of nonresponding housing units, which would be "statistically representative of all housing units in [a] nonresponding tract."" The follow up rate would be adjusted for each area to insure that data is collected from a total of 90% of the households in that area.

The second sampling procedure would follow the use of NRFU, and is called Integrated Coverage Measurement (ICM). ICM uses Dual System Estimation "to adjust the census results to account for undercount in the initial enumeration."

"The Bureau's announcement of its plan to use statistical sampling in the 2000 census led to a flurry of legislative activity." Congress then amended the Census Act to state: "notwithstanding any other provision of law, no sampling or any other statistical procedure, including any statistical adjustment, may be used in any determination of population for purposes of the apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States." However, President Clinton vetoed the Bill. "Congress then passed, and the President signed, a bill providing for the creation of a "comprehensive and detailed plan outlining [the Bureau's] proposed methodologies for conducting the 2000 Decennial Census and available methods to conduct an actual enumeration of the population," including an explanation of any statistical methodologies that may be used."

"The Act also permits any person aggrieved by the plan to use statistical sampling in the decennial census to bring a legal action and requires that any action brought under the Act be heard by a three-judge district court."

Clinton v. Glavin

Clinton v. Glavin, the first challenge to the proposed sampling "was filed on February 12, 1998, in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia by four counties (Cobb County, Georgia; Bucks County, Pennsylvania; Delaware County, Pennsylvania; and DuPage County, Illinois) and residents of 13 States (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin), who claimed that the Bureau's planned use of statistical sampling to apportion Representatives among the States violates the Census Act and the Census Clause of the Constitution."[1]

"The District Court held that the case was ripe for review, that the plaintiffs satisfied the requirements for Article III standing, and that the Census Act prohibited use of the challenged sampling procedures to apportion Representatives."

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's decision in Clinton v. Glavin. Key quotes from DOC v. US House of Reps Opinion:

  • "...the threat of vote dilution through the use of sampling is "concrete" and "actual or imminent, not 'conjectural' or 'hypothetical.'""
  • "There is undoubtedly a "traceable" connection between the use of sampling in the decennial census and Indiana's expected loss of a Representative..."

Meaning of the Census Act

Next, the Court discussed the meaning of the Census Act. The Court said, "The District Court below examined the plain text and legislative history of the Act and concluded that the proposed use of statistical sampling to determine population for purposes of apportioning congressional seats among the States violates the Act. We agree."

A - Discussion of the Census Act's Historical Background

The Court first discussed the history and context of the Census Act. "From the very first census, the census of 1790, Congress has prohibited the use of statistical sampling in calculating the population for purposes of apportionment. The First Congress enacted legislation requiring census enumerators to swear an oath to make "a just and perfect enumeration" of every person within the division to which they were assigned."

"The current Census Act was enacted into positive law in 1954. It contained substantially the same language as did its predecessor statutes, requiring enumerators to "visit personally each dwelling house in his subdivision" in order to obtain "every item of information and all particulars required for any census or survey" conducted in connection with the census."

1957 saw the first use of sampling, when "The Secretary asked Congress to amend the Act to permit the Bureau to use statistical sampling in gathering some of the census information." "In response, Congress enacted � 195, which provided that, "except for the determination of population for apportionment purposes, the Secretary may, where he deems it appropriate, authorize the use of the statistical method known as 'sampling' in carrying out the provisions of this title.""

"This provision allowed the Secretary to authorize the use of sampling procedures in gathering supplemental, nonapportionment census information regarding population, unemployment, housing, and other matters collected in conjunction with the decennial census -- much of which is now collected through what is known as the "long form"" <NOTE: Census 2010 will use only the short form. How will they sample these data without the long form?> The court stated, "The � 141 authorization to use sampling techniques in the decennial census is not necessarily an authorization to use these techniques in collecting all of the information that is gathered during the decennial census."

In 1964, a change in the Act allowed surveys to be completed and submitted via the postal service, rather than by personal visit only.

An amendment to the Act in 1976 caused it to read, "Except for the determination of population for purposes of apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States, the Secretary shall, if he considers it feasible, authorize the use of the statistical method known as 'sampling' in carrying out the provisions of this title."" Note that "the section maintains its prohibition on the use of statistical sampling in calculating population for purposes of apportionment."

B - Meaning of the Revisions of 1976

The Court discussed the intentions of the leaders who amended the Census Act in 1976. The Court stated that, "The conclusion that the Census Act prohibits the use of sampling for apportionment purposes finds support in the debate and discussions surrounding the 1976 revisions to the Census Act." The Court argued that the Members of Congress did not intend to make any profoundly drastic changes to the census: "it is hard to imagine that, having explicitly prohibited the use of sampling for apportionment purposes in 1957, Congress would have decided to reverse course on such an important issue by enacting [only a subtle change in phraseology"

Thus, the Court concluded that the Census Act prohibits the use of sampling for apportionment.

Conclusion

"[W]e conclude that the Census Act prohibits the proposed uses of statistical sampling in calculating the population for purposes of apportionment. Because we so conclude, we find it unnecessary to reach the constitutional question presented."

References

  1. Doc v. United States House of Representatives, 525 U.S. 316, 327 (U.S. 1999)
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