Thirty first-year law students got closer to the Supreme Court than most lawyers ever do when their Constitutional Law class researched a brief filed in a case argued before the high court March 27.
“I thought it would be a great introduction to constitutional law and give [the students] the training in constitutional argument—and for that matter give them a brief they can show their parents,” said their teacher, Assistant Professor of Law Nathaniel A. Persily, who is an expert in congressional redistricting.
The case, Utah et al. vs. Donald. L. Evans, Secretary of Commerce, et al., is about how many seats Utah and North Carolina are apportioned in the House of Representatives.
Utah, challenging the federal government, argued that methods used in the 2000 Census led to an overstatement of the population of North Carolina, thereby awarding a seat to North Carolina that rightfully belonged to Utah.
Utah argued that the methods violated both the constitutional requirement of “an actual enumeration” of each U.S. resident and a federal law banning “sampling” by the Census in any count done for purposes of reapportionment.
“If Utah wins, it will strip North Carolina of a seat and Utah will gain a seat,” said Persily, who wrote the amicus curiae brief for the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
The brief supports the government’s position that the Census has always used similar imputation techniques: “The imputation process was much like the procedures followed in the earliest censuses, when a neighbor would give information about the house next door if its occupant was nowhere to be found, heads of households would give information about all who dwelled within, and slaveowners would estimate the number of slaves on their plantations.”
Several students accompanied Persily to Washington to hear the case argued.
“It was kind of like getting an audience with the king,” said Jessica Songster. She and her classmates waited in the cold from 7 to 9:30 a.m. to get seated. She and Amy Terry were surprised by how small the courtroom was.
“I was impressed with the formality of it,” said Terry.
Jason Rubin added, “I understood what was going on because we had been in the process.”
Originally published on April 11, 2002