Wisconsin v. City of New York

Decision Date20 March 1996
Docket Number941614
Citation134 L.Ed.2d 167,517 U.S. 1,116 S.Ct. 1091
PartiesWISCONSIN, Petitioner, v. CITY OF NEW YORK et al. OKLAHOMA, Petitioner, v. CITY OF NEW YORK et al. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, et al., Petitioners, v. CITY OF NEW YORK et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus **

The Constitution's Census Clause vests Congress with the responsibility to conduct an "actual Enumeration" of the American public every 10 years, with the primary purpose of providing a basis for apportioning congressional representation among the States. That responsibility has been delegated to the Secretary of Commerce, who determined that an "actual Enumeration" would best be achieved in the 1990 census by not using a postenumeration survey (PES) statistical adjustment designed to correct an undercount in the initial enumeration. In this action brought by several of the respondents and others, the District Court concluded that the Secretary's decision not to statistically adjust the census violated neither the Constitution nor federal law. In reversing and remanding, the Court of Appeals looked to a line of precedent involving judicial review of intrastate districting decisions, see Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 526, 11 L.Ed.2d 481, and its progeny, and held, inter alia, that a heightened standard of review was required here because the Secretary's decision impacted the fundamental right to have one's vote counted and had a disproportionate impact upon certain identifiable minority racial groups.

Held: Because it was reasonable to conclude that an "actual Enumeration" could best be achieved in the 1990 census without the PES-based statistical adjustment, the Secretary's decision not to use that adjustment was well within the constitutional bounds of discretion over the conduct of the census that is provided to the Federal Government. Pp. __-__.

(a) The Secretary's decision was not subject to heightened scrutiny. In two recent decisions, Department of Commerce v. Montana, 503 U.S. 442, 112 S.Ct. 1415, 118 L.Ed.2d 87, and Franklin v. Massachusetts, 505 U.S. 788, 112 S.Ct. 2767, 120 L.Ed.2d 636, this Court rejected the application of Wesberry's "one person-one vote" standard to Congress, concluding that the Constitution vests Congress with wide discretion over apportionment decisions and the conduct of the census, and that the appropriate standard of review examines a congressional decision to determine whether it is "consistent with the constitutional language and the constitutional goal of equal representation," see Franklin, supra, at 804, 112 S.Ct., at 2777. Rather than the strict scrutiny standard applied in Wesberry and adopted by the Court of Appeals, the standard established in Montana and Franklin applies to the Secretary's decision here. The Constitution's text vests Congress with virtually unlimited discretion in conducting the "actual Enumeration," see Art. I, § 2, cl. 3 (Congress may conduct the census "in such Manner as they shall by Law direct"), and there is no basis for thinking that such discretion is more limited than that text provides. Through the Census Act, 13 U.S.C. § 141(a), Congress has delegated its broad authority over the census to the Secretary. Hence, so long as the Secretary's conduct of the census is "consistent with the constitutional language and the constitutional goal of equal representation," it is within the Constitution's limits. Pp. __-__.

(b) The Secretary's decision conformed to applicable constitutional and statutory provisions. In light of the Constitution's broad grant of authority to Congress, that decision need bear only a reasonable relationship to the accomplishment of an actual enumeration of the population, keeping in mind the census' constitutional purpose of apportioning congressional representation. The Secretary based the decision upon three determinations, each of which is well within the bounds of his constitutional discretion. First, he held that in light of the constitutional purpose, the census' distributive accuracy—i.e., getting most nearly correct the proportions of people in different areas—was more important than its numerical accuracy. A preference for distributive accuracy (even at the expense of some numerical accuracy) is not inconsistent with the constitutional need to determine the apportionment of the Representatives among the States. Second, the Secretary's determination that the unadjusted census data should be considered the most distributively accurate absent a showing to the contrary was based on his well-founded understanding of historical census practice and experience, an important consideration in this context. See, e.g., Montana, supra, at 465, 112 S.Ct., at 1429-30. Respondents misplace their reliance on statistical adjustments that were used in the 1970 and 1980 censuses, since those adjustments were of an entirely different type than the one at issue and took place on a dramatically smaller scale, and since a PES-based adjustment would have been the first time in history that the States' apportionment was based upon counts in other States. Third, respondents' contention that this Court should review de novo the Secretary's conclusions on this point fundamentally misapprehends the basis for deference to his determination, which arises not from the highly technical nature of his decision, but from the wide discretion bestowed by the Constitution upon Congress, and by Congress upon him. The Secretary's conclusion that the PES-based adjustment would not improve distributive accuracy, which was based on his review of extensive research and the recommendations of some of his advisers, was a reasonable choice in an area where technical experts disagree. Pp. __-__.

34 F.3d 1114 (C.A.2 1994), reversed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

On Writs of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Drew S. Days, III, Washington, DC, for federal petitioners.

James E. Doyle, Attorney General, Madison, WI, for state petitioners.

Robert S. Rifkind, New York City, for respondents.

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In conducting the 1990 United States Census, the Secretary of Commerce decided not to use a particular statistical adjustment that had been designed to correct an undercount in the initial enumeration. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the Secretary's decision was subject to heightened scrutiny because of its effect on the right of individual respondents to have their vote counted equally. We hold that the Secretary's decision was not subject to heightened scrutiny, and that it conformed to applicable constitutional and statutory provisions.

I

The Constitution requires an "actual Enumeration" of the population every 10 years and vests Congress with the authority to conduct that census "in such Manner as they shall by Law direct."1 Art. I, § 2, cl. 3. Through the Census Act, 13 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., Congress has delegated to the Secretary of the Department of Commerce the responsibility to take "a decennial census of the population . . . in such form and content as he may determine . . . ." § 141(a). The Secretary is assisted in the performance of that responsibility by the Bureau of the Census and its head, the Director of the Census. See § 2; § 21 ("[The] Director shall perform such duties as may be imposed upon him by law, regulations, or orders of the Secretary").

The Constitution provides that the results of the census shall be used to apportion the Members of the House of Representatives among the States. See Art. I, § 2, cl. 3 ("Representatives . . . shall be apportioned among the several States . . . according to their respective Numbers . . . "); Amdt. XIV, § 2 ("Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State . . . "). Because the Constitution provides that the number of Representatives apportioned to each State determines in part the allocation to each State of votes for the election of the President, the decennial census also affects the allocation of members of the electoral college. See Art. II, § 1, cl. 2 ("Each State shall appoint . . . a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress . . ."). Today, census data also have important consequences not delineated in the Constitution: The Federal Government considers census data in dispensing funds through federal programs to the States, and the States use the results in drawing intrastate political districts.

There have been 20 decennial censuses in the history of the United States. Although each was designed with the goal of accomplishing an "actual Enumeration" of the population, no census is recognized as having been wholly successful in achieving that goal.2 Cf. Karcher v. Daggett, 462 U.S. 725, 732, 103 S.Ct. 2653, 2659, 77 L.Ed.2d 133 (1983) (recognizing that "census data are not perfect," and that "population counts for particular localities are outdated long before they are completed"); Gaffney v. Cummings, 412 U.S. 735, 745, 93 S.Ct. 2321, 2327, 37 L.Ed.2d 298 (1973) (census data "are inherently less than absolutely accurate"). Despite consistent efforts to improve the quality of the count, errors persist. Persons who should have been counted are not counted at all or are counted at the wrong location; persons who should not have been counted (whether because they died before or were born after the decennial census date, because they were not a citizen of the country, or because they did not exist) are counted; and persons who should have been counted only once are counted twice. It is thought that these errors have resulted in a net "undercount" of the actual American population in every decennial census. In 1970,...

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