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Court Will Consider Census Practice

January 22, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to consider whether census takers may estimate the size of one household based on that of its neighbors, an inexact technique critics say flouts the Constitution’s requirement for an ``actual enumeration.″

The household estimation method is used as a last resort when census workers repeatedly fail to find anyone home.

The court will hear an appeal from Utah, which claims that methods used in the 2000 census robbed the state of one of its congressional seats. The court also wants both sides to give their views on whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the case.

If the justices conclude that they do not have jurisdiction, the decision of a lower court against Utah would stand.

The court is expected to hear the case next fall, and its ruling would not affect races to fill congressional seats in the November election.

Utah lost a separate census challenge last year, when the high court refused to hear complaints that the census wrongly excluded Mormon missionaries working overseas.

In the latest Utah case, a panel of three federal judges voted 2-1 in November to dismiss the state’s lawsuit challenging the household estimation technique.

The lower court said it is reasonable to assume that households in the same neighborhood will be of similar size.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the state argued that the phrase ``actual enumeration″ means the Constitution’s framers specifically ruled out guesswork.

``There simply is no plausible understanding of the term,″ that would permit the use of estimated numbers in apportioning House seats, lawyers for the state wrote.

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