WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has declined Utah's request for a hearing that the state sought as a last chance to increase its representation in Congress over the next decade.
Without comment, the court rejected Utah's appeal that it should get an additional congressional seat because thousands of the state's residents were doing missionary work overseas and thus were not counted by the 2000 Census.
Utah argued that it is unconstitutional to count some Americans living abroad while excluding others. The census only counts expatriates if they are in the military or performing government service.
Utah's governor argued in the court brief that the counting method discriminates against people based on their occupations, and the census does not meet the constitutional requirement for an "actual enumeration" of U.S. citizens.
The appeal also argued that the counting method amounts to a government intrusion on religion, since missionaries who may have gone overseas will stay home to avoid being excluded from the count.
The Supreme Court's inaction upholds a lower court's decision against Utah, a position supported by the Bush administration.
In March, the lower court ruled that forcing the Census Bureau to include Mormon missionaries would skew the count because a disproportionate number of them would hail from one state. It would also break open the levee holding back challenges from other Americans temporarily living overseas, such as students or corporate employees.
The court also ruled that Utah had not showed that the census count deterred any missionaries from participating in overseas work
The disputed seat would have come from North Carolina, which came out 856 residents ahead of Utah in the 2000 Census. North Carolina, which acted as a defendant with the Census Bureau, has 13 House seats. Utah has three.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that it is constitutional to count federal employees working overseas in the Census count, but it did not address other Americans living abroad.
Utah argued that the practice of including federal employees in an overseas count opens the door to partisan mischief.
"Indeed, if the bureau may isolate the federal employee segment of the overseas population on the ground that it deems it politically or patriotically appropriate to do so, then other more blatantly partisan decisions to enumerate different segments of the population may logically follow," the state lawyers argued.
Had the court ruled for Utah, the Census Bureau would have been forced to include thousands of Mormon missionaries in Utah's population, or been forced to exclude the federal employees. Either way, North Carolina would likely have lost the congressional seat.
An estimated 5 million Americans were living overseas at the time of the 2000 census. About 11,000 were Mormon missionaries from Utah, where the church is based.
Besides this appeal, Utah plans to ask the Supreme Court to review a separate case challenging the practice of estimating a household's population based on that of its close neighbors. The practice is a last resort if census workers cannot get firsthand information.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.