Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

The census results are in!

December 21, 2010 by Dr. Steve Frank


The results are in: According to Census Bureau data released today, eight states will gain congressional seats as a result of the reapportionment required by the Constitution every 10 years. Ten states will lose seats. The big winners are Texas, which will gain four seats in Congress, and Florida, which will gain two. Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah, Washington and Nevada will each gain an additional congressional district.


On the other side of the ledger, New York and Ohio will each lose two congressional seats. Eight states will lose one: Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey.

A Census Primer:

According to the Constitution, when reapportionment takes place Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.


(You’ll find that language in the 14th Amendment, which is where it migrated after the Civil War to eliminate from Article I the notorious clause counting slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportionment. But that’s a story for another day.)


Article I, which concerns Congress, also says:

The actual Enumeration [census] shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative.

OK. Sounds simple: Count the number of people in each state every 10 years. Allocate congressional seats to each state according to its population count. Make sure that the number of seats doesn’t exceed one for every 30,000 people and that each state has at least one seat.

What’s there to argue about? Plenty, as it turns out.

For one thing, what’s the right size of Congress? The Constitution doesn’t say, and from the beginning Americans have disagreed about it.


The Constitution set the initial number of representatives in the House at 65. Opponents of the Constitution argued that that number was too small, placing too much power in the hands of too few, with too little knowledge of their constituents wants and needs.


James Madison, who assumed that the number of representatives would be increased from time to time, suggested (presciently) that 400 would be a number large enough to quiet the controversy. But he said it was a fallacy to base representation on strict “arithmetical principles” and cautioned, in Federalist 55, that more is not necessarily better:


Sixty or seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven. But it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be proportionably a better depositary. And if we carry on the supposition to six or seven thousand, the reasoning ought to be reversed…. In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason.


So with the number of representatives in Congress set at 435 for the past 100 years, has the dust finally settled? Not entirely. Critics complain that because of mathematical rounding errors limiting the size of the House to 435 seats results in the under- and over-representation of some states when seats are reapportioned. But assuming that Congress shrugs off the complaints and that a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 435 number is unsuccessful (a safe bet so far), the reapportionment numbers announced today are final.


Let the redistricting wars begin.


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