WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich has filed his much anticipated lawsuit seeking to prevent the Clinton administration from using a new and controversial method for estimating the country's population in the 2000 census.
The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, states that the method, known as statistical sampling, violates the Constitution and the federal Census Act. The suit asks that the decision of the court be immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.
"The House seeks a prompt and expeditious resolution on the merits of your administration's sampling plan because it is clearly in the national interest to resolve the issue now, before the 2000 census begins," Gingrich said in a letter to President Clinton.
The lawsuit is the latest move in the legal and political wrangling that has surrounded plans by the U.S. Census Bureau to use sampling to estimate the nation's population, rather than try to count every person. The method seeks to determine the number and characteristics of a population by counting a smaller sample.
Opponents of sampling say that such a method violates the Constitution, which states that the population should be determined by an "actual enumeration" of people. These opponents say that federal law states that sampling may be used by the Census Bureau "except for the determination of population for purposes of apportionment."
White House legal experts dispute that notion, pointing out that the Justice Departments under three presidents -- Jimmy Carter, George Bush and Bill Clinton -- have determined that sampling is legal.
The Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutional merits of sampling.
The issue is perceived to have enormous political ramifications. The Census Bureau wants to use sampling to avoid the debacle of the 1990 census, in which more than 10 million people went uncounted and 6 million were counted twice or in the wrong location.
Many of those missed were minorities in central cities. Many Republicans fear that taking them into account through sampling would result in the drawing of election districts that favor Democrats.
Gingrich's lawsuit, filed on behalf of the House of Representatives, stems from an agreement reached between the House Republican leadership and the White House in November. That deal allowed the House to vote on a major spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State Departments, as well as the federal judiciary. Clinton had threatened to veto the bill because it contained a prohibition on the use of sampling.
In return for getting the Republicans to drop that ban on sampling, the White House agreed to authorize Gingrich to sue to see whether the federal courts would enjoin the practice.
In addition, the agreement authorized the spending of whatever was necessary to bring the suit, a provision that dismayed many supporters of sampling in the House.
Pub Date: 2/22/98