Congress members file suit seeking Census data

The Associated Press
Tuesday May 22, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Sixteen members of a Congressional reform committee invoked a 1928 rule in a federal lawsuit filed Monday to gain the release of adjusted Census data they say will show minorities were undercounted. 

The lawsuit was filed in district court in Los Angeles against Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans by members of the House Committee on Government Reform. 

The action, which names 16 committee members as plaintiffs, invokes the “Seven Member Rule,” a 73-year-old statute that gives any seven members of the House Committee on Government Reform special access to federal records. It is believed to be the first time the rule has been invoked in a lawsuit. 

“The adjusted census data should have been released months ago,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “There is no valid reason for the Bush administration to withhold this data from members of Congress or the public.” 

Committee members sent letters to Evans in early April seeking the release of statistically adjusted population figures for the 2000 Census.  

They filed the lawsuit after receiving no response, court documents said. 

The Commerce Department, which oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, has been the target of several other lawsuits filed by cities and counties seeking the release of adjusted data, including a federal lawsuit filed by officials in Los Angeles. 

The debate has political overtones, with Democrats seeking adjusted figures to make up for traditional undercounts of minorities, the poor and children. 

Republicans have argued that adjusting the numbers through statistical sampling techniques would inject errors into a 2000 Census that has been proven to be more accurate than the 1990 count. GOP leaders also claim the Constitution calls for only a raw head count every 10 years for redistricting purposes. 

Both parties agree that district lines drawn with adjusted data could add more minorities, which likely would mean the addition of more Democrats to voter rolls. 

The Commerce Department in March agreed with a recommendation by Census Bureau statisticians who concluded that raw numbers should be released instead of sampled data for official redistricting purposes.  

The statisticians made their recommendation after finding discrepancies between adjusted data and other demographic surveys that could not be resolved before an April 1 statutory deadline for releasing Census figures. 

A 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling bars the use of adjusted numbers for reapportioning Congressional seats, but such data could be used for local districting purposes and the disbursement of government funds. 

The lawsuit filed Monday claims the Commerce Department violated the Administrative Procedure Act by refusing to release the data to committee members under the “Seven Member Rule.” 

“The fact that people have to go to this length to try to get the data is really a sad commentary on the (Bush) administration,” said Jessica Heinz, an assistant city attorney in Los Angeles.  

“The data, even though it may have problems according to the bureau, should be made available to the public so they can make their own conclusions on its quality and so outside statisticians can review the data and articulate their concerns.” 

The White House did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. 

Census officials previously have said that they are trying to reconcile the adjusted figures and hope to make a decision in the fall on whether the data should be released. 

In a related matter, Heinz said Los Angeles will file an appeal by the end of May of its federal lawsuit seeking the release of adjusted figures.  

Last month U.S. District Court Judge Gary A. Feess ruled against the city, which was joined in its federal lawsuit by Albuquerque, N.M.; San Antonio; Stamford, Conn.; the Bronx and Brooklyn boroughs of New York City; Toledo, Ohio; Santa Clara County.; Inglewood and other cities. 

Plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the use of raw numbers leads to an undercount of the poor and minorities in Los Angeles and could lead to a potential loss of $372 million in federal funding over the next 10 years. 

Cameron and Hidalgo counties in Texas also filed their own federal lawsuit earlier this month claiming the use of raw numbers is leading to an undercount that will cost the counties up to $175 million in federal funds over the next decade. 

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