Case Summary

In the leadup to the 1990 decennial census, the Secretary of Commerce announced that the Census Bureau would not use a particular type of statistical adjustment that had been designed and previously used to correct an undercount in the initial population counts. In 1988, various states, cities, interest groups, and citizens challenged the Secretary's decision in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleging that it violated the U.S. Constitution's Enumeration Clause and was contrary to federal law.

In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court held for the defendant-Secretary of Commerce and upheld his decision to not use the statistical adjustment tool. The Court explained that the Constitution's Enumeration Clause grants Congress the responsibility to conduct an "actual Enumeration" of the American public every ten years and considerable discretion in how best to perform that duty. When Congress passed the Census Act, it delegated its constitutional authority and its discretion over the Enumeration and census operations to the Secretary of Commerce. Here, the Secretary determined that the census's objective and constitutional purpose would best be achieved without the use of the statistical adjustment tool, and the Court found that decision to be "entirely reasonable" and thus, permissible.

Significance: The Secretary of Commerce has broad authority when conducting the decennial census, including the reasonable exercise of discretion to use or not use certain statistical adjustment tools.

Case Library

U.S. Supreme Court - 517 U.S. 1 (1966)