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Justice Department will not appeal rule to open adjusted census

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Nov 25, 2002    

Justice Department will not appeal rule to open adjusted census

  • On the last day for appeal, the government decided not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision that said the Census Bureau must release its “adjusted count,” data based on a statistical adjustment to account for what the 2000 count may have missed.

The U.S. Department of Justice Nov. 23 declined to challenge an appeals court decision reached in October, which ruled that adjusted 2000 Census figures must be released. It decided not to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court on the last day available for appeal.

Attorney Tom Susman of Washington, D.C., who litigated the case, said that by waiting until the last minute to decide not to appeal, the government got most of what it wanted.

Although the Census Bureau must now disclose the adjusted census figures, it did not have to do so until after the states had completed their redistricting of boundaries for legislative districts and had allocated monies based on the census before adjusted figures were tallied.

The Census Bureau conducted its 2000 count through mail-in surveys and personal visits, but then used statistical sampling to arrive at adjusted figures in an effort to count more accurately where census takers had been unable to make actual contact. The Department of Commerce, parent agency to the Census Bureau, released the adjusted figures at the national level but refused to release them at the state or local level.

Oregon state senators Margaret Carter (D-Portland) and Susan Castillo (D-Eugene) challenged the denial of the adjusted figures, saying that because the census tally is used to determine redistricting and funds allocation needs, the public has a strong interest in knowing what the second count could reveal. They won in federal district and appeals courts.

Carter and Castillo’s success in the courts mirrored earlier court cases. In a case brought by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a federal district judge in March ordered adjusted figures released to U.S. Congressmen. The California Assembly won a similar victory for adjusted figures in the 1990 census.

Susman said that the government’s decision not to appeal means that these issues can be litigated again in the future. It is probably time for Congress to enact a disclosure statute that requires the adjusted figures to be made public, he said.

The New York Times reported that Democrats, urban officials from large cities and civil rights groups have estimated that the Census Bureau missed an estimated 3.2 million people, including mostly minorities, urban renters and the poor.

(Carter v. Dept. of Commerce; attorney: Thomas Susman, Ropes and Gray, Washington, D.C.) RD

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