GOP Wins Suit to Block Census Sampling Plan: White House Wants New Method

Article excerpt

A federal court yesterday ruled that the Census Bureau's plan to use statistical estimates as part of the 2000 census is illegal, dealing a major blow to the Clinton administration proposal for a modern update of the head count.

Congressional Republicans, locked in a bitter battle with the White House over the issue, hailed the ruling. The issue may be resolved by the Supreme Court, which returns Oct. 5.

The federal ruling is significant because the census count determines the number of representatives each state will send to the U.S. House and to various state and local legislative bodies. Billions of federal dollars are allocated on the basis of how many people live in each state and city, and shifts in population can lead to the redrawing of House districts.

Civic and industry leaders across the nation are thumping for a fair, accurate census in 2000.

Yesterday's 71-page decision by U.S. District Court Judges Douglas Ginsburg, Ricardo Urbina and Royce Lamberth found "that the use of statistical sampling to determine the population for purposes of the apportionment of representatives in Congress among the states violates the Census Act."

"Statistical sampling" refers to a complex method of supplementing the mail-back method to obtain census data and the subsequent face-to-face questioning of non-respondents.

Using the proposed new method, the Census Bureau would obtain completed questionnaires from 90 percent of the population by mail, then it would sample a given number of persons from the remaining 10 percent.

The bureau would apply the data obtained from the sampled individuals to the remainder of non-respondents. Then it would sample about 750,000 other people and match their answers against those from the sampled 10 percent. Republican congressional leaders, including Dan Miller from Florida and House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, have vehemently opposed the administration's census plan. Democrats have fervently pushed for it.

Republicans insisted the redesigned census would artificially inflate the count of blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, renters, immigrants and others who traditionally vote for Democrats and who've been undercounted.

If true, the number of Democrats in Congress would likely go up and the number of Republicans would go down. To thwart this, Mr. Gingrich initiated in February the suit that was decided yesterday.

This is a "tremendous victory for every American," he said. "The Clinton administration's illegal and unconstitutional scheme to manipulate our census for the express purposes of political gain has been exposed."

Mr. Miller, chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee's census subcommittee, said, "I have said all along that [the Census Bureau's] plan is too complicated, unreliable and untrustworthy."

Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican added, "The Constitution does not call for a census based on sampling, puffed numbers, or a best guess. …