Wisconsin v. City of New York
Annotate this Case
517 U.S. 1 (1996)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
OCTOBER TERM, 1995
WISCONSIN v. CITY OF NEW YORK ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
No. 94-1614. Argued January 10, 1996-Decided March 20,1996*
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, 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.
*Together with No. 94-1631, Oklahoma v. City of New York et al., and No. 94-1985, Department of Commerce et al. v. City of New York et al., also on certiorari to the same court.
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. 13-24.
(a) The Secretary's decision was not subject to heightened scrutiny.
In two recent decisions, Department of Commerce v. Montana, 503 U. S. 442, and Franklin v. Massachusetts, 505 U. S. 788, 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. 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. 13-20.
(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