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Panel of 3 judges to hear Utah case

Decision means any appeal goes straight to U.S. top court

Three heads are better than one.

At least, says attorney Tom Lee, when it comes to deciding if Utah should get another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. District Judge Dee Benson issued an order Friday calling for a three-judge panel to hear Utah's case that by refusing to count LDS missionaries abroad, the Census Bureau cost the state a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"We're pleased with the development," Lee said. "It will lead to an accelerated resolution to the case."

A three-judge panel means any appeal will go directly to the U. S. Supreme Court.

Lee is the Utah Lead Counsel in the lawsuit against the Census Bureau filed by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff on Jan. 10. The suit claims the bureau selectively counted federal employees living abroad while ignoring all others. According to recent figures, North Carolina has 18,000 military personnel living abroad while Utah has just 4,000. That means North Carolina would win the new House seat sweepstakes by 857 people. When LDS missionaries are included, however, Utah has 11,176 while North Carolina has only 100, swinging the numbers back in Utah's favor and giving Utah a fourth House seat.

"They counted a known subset of one population, knowing that partial enumeration would benefit some states and not others," Lee said on March 10, adding that even counting every corporate employee and representative from other denominations would not be enough to undermine Utah's claim.

Judge Benson was originally going to hear the case on March 20, but is still recovering from surgery. The date has been changed to March 28. According to the order, the court was in the process of contacting Chief Judge Deanell R. Tacha of the 10th Circuit so she could begin to empanel the judges.

"Every effort will be made to retain the existing hearing scheduled on March 28, 2001, at 10 a.m.," the order reads.