- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2000

A panel of federal judges yesterday ruled against Virginia's attempt to enforce without the Justice Department's approval a state law requiring that an actual census count be used in redistricting next year.

Virginia is appealing the ruling, the first in an expected passel of legal challenges to the Census Bureau's planned release of population data adjusted by a statistical method called "sampling," in addition to its usual head count.

Every 10 years, states redraw congressional and legislative districts to reflect population shifts based on Census Bureau figures. Each district must be as nearly equal in population as possible to meet the Supreme Court's one-person, one-vote mandate.

Several studies have noted that the 1990 census missed millions of Americans, mostly minorities and the poor.

Virginia's General Assembly passed a law requiring that an actual count be used in redrawing legislative boundaries and asked the court to approve that plan.

The Justice Department, a group of cities led by Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People all opposed Virginia's law.

Because of Virginia's history of racial discrimination, it is one of 16 states under the federal Voting Rights Act that must gain Justice approval before enforcing changes in certain laws.

The three judges of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia ruled that since the Census Bureau has not made a final decision to release the adjusted numbers waiting to gauge the new figures' accuracy there is no issue to decide now.

"Until the Census Bureau decides which census figures to release, a judicial ruling on these questions of law would respond to an 'abstract disagreement' that may never materialize," the judges wrote.

Those involved in the case were quick to point out that the decision has nothing to do with the merits of Virginia's claim, and the judges gave no indication where they would come down on the final question of whether Virginia may require actual numbers.

Virginia's lawyers argued that delaying a decision could leave the state without enough time to redraw its districts and still hold primaries. Virginia is one of the few states with legislative elections and a governor's election next year.

But the judges said a new state law that allows primaries to be delayed in case redistricting is not completed in time alleviates concern about not having enough time.

David Botkins, spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley, said the state will file an appeal, which will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The U.S. Constitution mandates an actual count. Virginia's statute should be upheld in order to have timely legislative elections in 2001," Mr. Botkins said.

Kent Willis, executive director of the state ACLU, said the law would undermine "the principle of one-person, one-vote."

The Census Bureau must release the actual head count for all 50 states by Dec. 31. However, that release will not break down population counts for more specific geographic areas, such as counties and municipalities information essential for states to redistrict.

The local data must be released by April 1 the same day that sampled data, if approved by the Census Bureau, must be released.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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