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Judge Rejects Challenge to Census : Courts: Federal jurist says evidence supports claim that millions were not counted. But he holds that agency's refusal to adopt revised figures was not an arbitrary decision.


In a decision that could end a fight over the "undercount" of millions of people in the 1990 U.S. Census, a federal judge in New York has ruled against cities and states that were trying to force the federal government to adjust its official head count upward.

Unless it is overturned on appeal, the decision will clear the way for the federal government to continue to peg California's 1990 population at 29.7 million, a figure the Census Bureau acknowledges is more than 1 million below the number of people believed to have lived in the state at that time.

At issue in the lawsuit was which set of figures to use: the original, door-to-door canvass or a second, statistical adjustment also performed by the Census Bureau, which estimated that the traditional count missed 3 million to 5 million people nationwide.

The decision to accept the Census Bureau's original count has broad repercussions, affecting such issues as the state's allotment of representatives in Congress and the delivery of federal funds to California.

Democrats in the Legislature had sought in separate actions to force the use of the Census Bureau's revised numbers because most of those missed in the original census lived in inner-city neighborhoods that are considered Democratic strongholds. Republicans, including Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, joined the fight as well, in an effort to secure more federal money for the state.

"We're disappointed," said Jessica Heinz, an assistant city attorney in Los Angeles.

Heinz said U.S. District Judge Joseph McLaughlin acknowledged that the evidence supported the plaintiffs' contention that the adjusted census numbers were more reliable than the original count.

Yet McLaughlin said that the Commerce Department's decision to reject the Census Bureau's adjusted numbers should stand because it could not be shown that the department acted in an arbitrary or capricious manner.

Heinz and David Puglia, a spokesman for Lungren, said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the ruling.

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