Monday, March 08, 2010

Is the Census Mandatory? And is THAT constitutional?

A letter from a reader:

I've been getting a lot of questions on this subject from fellow students.

As both a Libertarian and a military veteran, I find the numerous, intrusive questions asked by the Census greatly disturbing. Are the questions, besides the ones directly related to the number of people in your household, unconstitutional? Personally, I believe that they are. If I refuse to answer questions other than those pertaining to the size of my household, what, if any, legal consequences could I face? I ask because I can't seem to find any concrete information on the subject. Also, if I may ask, how do you all plan on approaching the Census?


Dear Reader: Yes, I happen to know the answer to that.

The American Community Survey is conducted under the authority of Title 13, United States Code, Sections 141 and 193, and response is mandatory. According to Section 221, persons who do not respond shall be fined not more than $100. Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3571 and Section 3559, in effect amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221 by changing the fine for anyone over 18 years old who refuses or willfully neglects to complete the questionnaire or answer questions posed by census takers from a fine of not more than $100 to not more than $5,000. The U.S. Census Bureau may use this information only for statistical purposes. We can assure you that your confidentiality is protected. Title 13 requires the Census Bureau to keep all information about you and all other respondents strictly confidential. Any Census Bureau employee who violates these provisions is subject to a fine of up to $250,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years, or both.

Here is the reference for Title 13, if you want to read it

Now, you asked if the law making responses mandatory is constitutional. You could mean, "where is it in the Constitution?" The fact is that there is SOMETHING there, about the Census, but of course not the intrusive questions. But Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 does have a provision that a counting be done, "in such manner as [Congress] may direct."

Or you could mean, "What Supreme Court case contains the decision that justifies the law?" In that case, here is a legal history

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

But you do not answer his questions on the legality of answering ALL of the questions....

Hurry and do so as I got a letter today telling me the Census form is coming in ONE week.

It was written in 6 different languages.

Really!!

Tom said...

I'm wondering what is the level of resistance... If ten million people decline, then prosecution of any significant fraction is impossible. Perhaps Google knows...

Anonymous said...

So as you stated (and linked to), there are NO LIMITS on what can be asked. And if we don't answer, we get fined.

The Federal government can legally force me to answer on what exactly I eat, what times my kids go to bed, what books I read, what tv I watch, what websites I read, what medications I take, what my doctor tells me, etc., etc., etc.

Not blaming you, just making sure I understand the legal requirements and when I do my civil disobedience.

akon said...

Great post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"It was written in 6 different languages. . . Really!!"

What is the issue here? Certainly it's not an issue related to the question leading to the post, privacy.

Anonymous said...

No....I just thought it was pretty amazing that in a worthless govt generated letter they had to use 6 different languages to explain getting counted....

mack said...

If I were to wager a guess at why, I’d say that users don’t “browse” forms. The interaction style users engage in with forms is different, and requires its own study and design best practices.

get academic

Anonymous said...

Mack...

HUH???

Anonymous said...

Anyone who doesn't feel right about the census or its constitutionality, please feel free to decline to participate. More revenue and representation for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Oh, so sad how far we've come. You had it right with "representation", since that WAS the purpose, but to buy into the "more revenue"??? Come on. It's not revenue; that implies EARNING. It IS however a handout. And by your response, it is an entitlement now. This should not be!!! We are to be represented by the elected for the purpose of securing and maintaining our rights and liberties. Now we just give them up and say "please get me more money"?? People, I ask you to think it through. If it does not preserve or strengthen YOUR freedoms and liberties, then do not go along with it idly. WE THE PEOPLE, not they the politicians.

Elliot said...

How intrusive are the questions? Not very, in my opinion. On the questionnaire there are only 5 questions! They are:
What is your name?
What is your age and date of birth?
What is your gender?
Are you of hispanic origin?
What is your race?

Please get worried about something more offensive than this!

Anonymous said...

You got a different questionnaire than I received.
Here's the one I got:

http://2010.census.gov/2010census/pdf/2010_Questionnaire_Info.pdf

John said...

You received a very different questionnaire than me.

This is the one I received:

http://2010.census.gov/2010census/pdf/2010_Questionnaire_Info.pdf

Anonymous said...

Those of you that are concerned about answering these questions should be aware that, with VERY inexpensive software, I, or any other private investigator, can find out ANY of this info (and MUCH, MUCH more) about you or anyone else in your family, JUST by your address. So can the government. If the government does it, however, it could be considered intrusive....SO, you are asked, constitutionally, to supply this basic info. I HATE doing it myself....but it is a waste of time to worry about it and it COULD be a waste of money.

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Anonymous said...

I think the most importannt issues in this qunestion is;

What does the word census mean?

In strict law terms, a 'anonymous counting'.

If the government places something in front of me that does not conform to definition of a census,
then what

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Anonymous said...

You forgotto mention, persononeperson twothree etc..etc..what insurance coverage..what means of income.what appliancesdoesthe home have ..just exactly who lives there.whatkind of house is it and what does everyone in the house doallday..what kind of internet, what kind ofphone service , how manydivorces... How well can you hear...where did everyone live last year.how well can you dress yourself. How educated exactly are you and everyone else in the house...what kind of house did everyone live in a year ago...id say intrusive would be a gross understatement to say theleast