Sampling for Census 2000: A Legal Overview Page: 5 of 31
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Sampling for Census 2000: A Legal Overview
Sampling and statistical adjustment of the decennial population census taken for
the purpose of apportioning the Representatives in Congress among the States, have
become increasingly controversial during the past two decades and have culminated
in two lawsuits concerning the legality and constitutionality of sampling, Department
of Commerce v. U.S. House of Representatives' and Clinton v. Glavin,2 which were
heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in consolidated oral arguments on Nov. 30, 1998.
The Supreme Court took the case on a direct appeal from the decisions by two three-
judge panels, of the D.C. District Court and the Eastern District of Virginia,
respectively, that the Census Act prohibits sampling in the apportionment census.
Further controversy resulted from the decision by the Department of Commerce and
the Census Bureau to continue with both sampling and non-sampling scenario
preparations in the wake of the district court decisions. Funding for Census 2000
preparations remains an issue since current appropriations enactments fund census
activities only through June 15, 1999. In the meantime, the recently constituted
Census Monitoring Board has been holding hearings on possible alternatives to
sampling which could help resolve the non-response and undercount problems of the
census, such as the use of administrative records.
For the past two censuses, in 1980 and 1990, the Bureau of the Census has
considered adjustment but decided not to adjust the census. Each time, litigation
resulted when interested parties, including state and local governments and minority
advocacy groups, sued for adjustment of the census or for the release of adjusted
figures. Ultimately, in Wisconsin v. City of New York,3 the United States Supreme
Court upheld the decision by the Secretary of Commerce against adjustment in the
1990 census without directly addressing the constitutionality or legality of sampling.
As the 2000 decennial census draws near, the plans of the Bureau of the Census to
use statistical techniques, including a hitherto untried sampling technique for non-
response, and the apparent Administration support for these plans, has focused
renewed attention on the issues of reliability, legality and constitutionality of these
techniques. Doubts about the use of sampling led to legislative activity to study
further, restrict, or prohibit the use of sampling for the apportionment census.
Disagreement between the legislative and executive branches about whether to
111 F. Supp. 2d 76 (D.D.C. 1998), motion for expedited consideration granted, 119 S.Ct.
27 (U.S. Sept. 10, 1998) (No. 98-404).
219 F. Supp. 2d 543 (E.D. Va. 1998), motion for expedited consideration granted, 119 S.Ct.
290. (U.S. Oct. 2, 1998) (No. 98-564).
3__ U.S. __, 116 S.Ct. 1091 (1996).
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Sampling for Census 2000: A Legal Overview, report, December 30, 1998; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc805589/m1/5/: accessed March 26, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.