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Wisconsin v. City of New York et al.

517 U.S. 1 (1996)

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Wisconsin v. City of New York et al.

United States Supreme Court

517 U.S. 1 (1996)

Facts

Article I, § 2 of the United States Constitution required the United States to conduct a census every 10 years in order to properly apportion the members of the House of Representatives among the states based on their populations. The census data was also used to apportion members of the electoral college among the states and to allocate funds for federal programs. Due to the nature of data collection, the census often undercounted the population by approximately 2.7 percent. The undercount often occurred in urban areas, meaning that states with large cities were more affected by undercounts than other states. To prepare for the 1990 census, the Census Bureau conducted research into statistical-adjustment methods that could alleviate the undercount. The most promising method of statistical adjustment was the capture-recapture approach. Under that approach, postcensus surveys were sent out to certain areas, and data received from the surveys was compared with counts made during the census enumeration process. The rate at which people were undercounted during the enumeration process was then extrapolated to the entire United States population. In 1991 the secretary of commerce (the secretary) (defendant) decided to not utilize any statistical-adjustment methods, instead deciding to conduct the census as usual. A group of plaintiffs including the city of New York (plaintiffs) challenged the secretary’s decision to not use statistical adjustments. New York argued that the decision violated the principle of one person, one vote by creating undercounts of certain populations. The federal district court held that the secretary’s decision did not violate the United States Constitution. The court of appeals held that the secretary’s decision was subject to heightened scrutiny because it implicated the principle of one person, one vote and remanded the case for the secretary to show that his decision was based on a legitimate government purpose. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Rehnquist, C.J.)

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