California--Don’t Count Us Out! : Census recount could help the state significantly

A federal appeals court has ruled that the 1990 census somehow lost count of about 5 million Americans, primarily minority members who live in Los Angeles, New York and other big cities. The court held that the Bush Administration had failed to justify the refusal of then-Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher to accept the Census Bureau’s correction of an undercount. That refusal deprived millions of citizens of their fundamental right to equal representation in Congress.

The Clinton Administration should correct this injustice by accepting the ruling--forgoing an appeal--and adjusting the 1990 census count upward before more harm is done.

Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown should certify the revised count that was rejected by Mosbacher and send the new population statistics to Congress.

Reapportionment is also part of the remedy. California and Arizona each are entitled to an additional seat in the House. Justice requires swift action, without waiting for resolution of another round of legal appeals and challenges.


The losers, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, aren’t expected to give up a congressional seat easily. Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.) already has written to U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to indicate that his state will appeal the ruling. The legal battles could take years.

The putative winners, California and Arizona, have every right to be impatient. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has written Reno and President Clinton to request action “as soon as legally possible.” She’s right, and she’s not alone.

This is a bipartisan fight for fairness. Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, who has had to manage in an era of red ink in Sacramento, has lobbied hard for a correction of the undercount and for California’s fair share of federal allocations.

The undercount, in addition to denying California a congressional seat, has cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds, which are allocated in part on the basis of population figures. The state and the City of Los Angeles lost funds designated for highway construction and safety, coastal zone management, land and water conservation, libraries, special housing and nutrition programs for the elderly, juvenile delinquency prevention and criminal justice grants, energy conservation and emergency homeless shelters--all because of the census undercount.


Why didn’t the Bush Administration correct the undercount? Did politics contaminate the census results? Did Mosbacher refuse to accept the results of the post-enumeration survey because minority members who live in big cities tend to be Democrats? If so, that’s shameful.

Anticipating problems with the federal census, Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn--represented superbly by his deputy, Jessica Heinz--in 1988 initiated the legal effort to produce an accurate census. Heinz, eventually joined by lawyers from other cities and states and the NAACP, has prevailed for now and promises to fight on until the undercount is corrected, the federal funding is changed and California gains another member of Congress.

Americans must not lose faith in the principle of equal representation, especially in a time that so encourages cynicism. Equal rights are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. But citizens don’t count unless they are actually counted. The 1990 census must be corrected as soon as possible.



Estimated undercount of nation’s minority groups:

Group Undercount Latinos 5.2% Blacks 4.8% Asians 3.1%

Source: 1990 Census