The Census of 2010: Bring It On

I’m waiting eagerly for the census form to arrive in the mail. Its arrival will give me an opportunity to comply with the “real” Constitution by committing an act of civil disobedience. Specifically, I will refuse to answer the questions that have nothing to do with the constitutional purpose of the census.

Yes, the Constitution mandates the census, for the purpose of apportioning membership in the House of Representatives among the States. And it says in the Constitution that “the actual Enumeration . . . shall be made . . . in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” But the operative word is “enumeration.” It follows that Congress’s power to direct the “manner” of the enumeration is restricted to such matters as when and at what cost the enumeration shall be made.

In fact,  nine of the questions asked on this year’s ten-question census form are  extraneous to the constitutional purpose of determining the number of persons living in each State. It is telling that the “box” in which the constitutional purpose of the census is stated contains only question 1: “How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?” The layout of the form indicates clearly that the other nine questions are unnecessary, not to mention intrusive; for example: Do you own or rent your home? Is it mortgaged? What’s your phone number, age, and date of birth? Are you Hispanic? What’s your race (since the abolition of slavery, relevant only to the exclusion of “Indians not taxed” from the enumeration)? Do you sometimes live or stay somewhere else, and why?

Worse than the basic census form is the American Community Survey (ACS), which is sent to a random sample of addresses. The survey redoubles the constitutional irrelevance and unwarranted intrusiveness of the basic census form by asking about such things as the characteristics of your dwelling (e.g., number of rooms, number of bathrooms, age of building, types of appliances), number of automobiles you own, cost and type of utilities you use, the estimated value of your home, your annual real-estate taxes, the amount of mortgage payment, your education, your type of employment and work status, etc., etc., etc.

According to the Census Bureau,

The 2010 Census will help communities receive more than $400 billion in federal funds each year for things like:

  • Hospitals
  • Job training centers
  • Schools
  • Senior centers
  • Bridges, tunnels and other-public works projects
  • Emergency services

The data collected by the census also help determine the number of seats your state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It is noteworthy that the constitutional purpose of the census is stated as an afterthought, whereas top billing is given to several unconstitutional purposes — none of which derives from the powers granted Congress in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution. The fact that courts have upheld the constitutionality of extraneous, intrusive questions is no proof of their constitutionality. The real Constitution is what the Constitution says, not what some court says.

Nor is there a scintilla of a penumbra of a justification in the Constitution for the use of the census to satisfy the desire of social “scientists” to collect data from which they can derive unconstitutional policy prescriptions..Yet, the Census Bureau boldly proclaims the value of the census as a source of data for such endeavors by quoting one such “scientist”:

“For many sociologists and other scholars like me, the census data that is compiled every 10 years is flat-out the most reliable, comprehensive, and best source of data on the American population.”

— C.N. Le, Professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst

In addition to the essential unconstitutionality of the census, as it is conducted, there is the potential for the misuse of the census by an administration that is determined to micromanage our lives, as the present administration is wont to do. (A primary case in point: “health care reform.”)

As if that weren’t enough, Hans A. von Spakovsky notes that a court in Delaware has ruled that “there is a separate violation for each question you don’t answer. So, on this year’s ten-question Census form, you could be fined as much $1,000” — even though it is evident that the law (U.S. Code, Title 13, Section 221) contemplates a maximum fine of $100:

(a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.

The operative phrase is “any of the questions,” meaning any or all of them. Otherwise, the phrase would read “a question.” But arrogant, statist judges — like arrogant, statist executives and legislators — have no respect for the Constitution or laws that threaten to curb their power-lust.

Nevertheless, as von Spakovsky observes,

If there was a mass refusal by millions of Americans to answer parts of the form — like the race question — the U.S. Justice Department would not have the resources to prosecute everyone who violated the law. But you could be prosecuted and fined . . . .

What’s a Constitution-abiding citizen to do? Aside from giving false answers, which is neither principled nor wise (the potential penalty is five times greater than the penalty for not answering), I see three options:

1. Don’t return the census form(s) and avoid the census-taker when he comes a-calling. If the census-taker happens to catch you at home, you can put him off by recording his ID and telling him to return at some future time, after you have had a chance to call the Regional Census Center to confirm his identity. (If the census-taker gives you a phone number to call, explain to him that it would be imprudent of you to rely on him to give you a valid number.) It might just happen that you forget to be home at the agreed time, or that you don’t hear the doorbell.

2. Answer question 1 and its equivalent on the ACS (if you receive it), and return the form(s). Respond to follow-up visits by the census taker as suggested in 1.

3. Answer question 1 and its equivalent on the ACS (if you receive it), and return the form(s) with an note explaining the constitutional basis for your refusal to answer the other questions. Undaunted, the census-taker will come a-calling, and you (equally undaunted) can deal with him as suggested above. Don’t argue; just avoid.

In the census of 2000, I received the long census form (the predecessor of the ACS), and chose to exercise option 3. The census-taker gave up, and I never heard from a prosecutor. I can’t guarantee the same outcome (for you or me) this time around. But I intend, once again, to resist the unconstitutional intrusion of Big Brother’s minions into my life. I urge you to join me in sending this message to Washington:

Get out of my home and out of my life!

UPDATE (05/10/10):

See this, this, and this for more about Census 2010.