March 16th, 2010

The Census, the Constitution, and Civil Disobedience

The following article was also published at

Principled patriots who seek to support and defend the Constitution often point their ire in the direction of the elected officials who represent them—those who have taken an oath promising that they themselves will be faithful defenders of the document. While this is expected and entirely appropriate, one wonders how often such patriots seek to apply the same rigorous standard to themselves.

In truth, it is hard for a single individual to effectively support and defend the Constitution. Our collective actions, whether through activism, the ballot box, or educational efforts, can and do meet this standard. But what can one single person do in holding himself accountable to the same standard he applies to politicians?

One opportunity to do so presents itself at least once each decade, when the federal government conducts the United States Census. Authorized by the Constitution, the census was mandated as stipulated in Article I Section 2:

The actual Enumeration 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 purpose of this enumeration is made clear by the preceding language which describes the apportionment of direct taxes and representation in Congress. In order to ensure that the nation’s representation would remain accurate, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention included this provision. The first census occurred just one year after the Constitution was ratified, in 1790, under the direction of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Only for that and the succeeding census did the government strictly adhere to its constitutional authority; in later decades, questions were asked about manufacturing, social issues, mental health, employment, income information, and other unauthorized inquiries into the lives of individual Americans.

Describing this scope creep, the Census Bureau’s own website explains:

The first censuses in 1790 and 1800 were “simple” counts of population that fulfilled the U.S. Constitution’s requirement. While later enumerations met this constitutional mandate, they also gathered greater detail about the nation’s inhabitants. As a result, the census has grown from a “head count” to a tool enabling us to better understand the nation’s inhabitants, their pursuits and activities, and needs.

Note how the Census Bureau sees its role: they view all the additional questions outside of the Constitution’s mandate not as overstepping their authority, but fulfilling a mandated obligation, and going a step further to provide helpful information about the nation’s inhabitants. This would be like the President changing his term of office from four years to thirty, and defending the action by noting that he has “met this constitutional mandate” of four years, and simply added on twenty-six years to the end. “As a result”, he might say, “the office of president has grown from an always-changing ‘elected position’ to a more stable one enabling us to better focus on the nation’s inhabitants, their pursuits and activities, and needs.” I need not explain the absurdity of both of these examples.

In our federal laws, the only authority conferred to the government is that which is explicitly noted. In this case, reference is made to the “actual enumeration”—a simple counting of individuals for a specific purpose, and nothing more. In Federalist 58, Madison explained concisely what the purpose and intent of the census was, as mandated by the Constitution:

Within every successive term of ten years a census of inhabitants is to be repeated. The unequivocal objects of these regulations are, first, to readjust, from time to time, the apportionment of representatives to the number of inhabitants, under the single exception that each State shall have one representative at least; secondly, to augment the number of representatives at the same periods, under the sole limitation that the whole number shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand inhabitants.

Nowhere is it mentioned that the census was ever to be a “tool enabling us to better understand the nation’s inhabitants, their pursuits and activities, and needs”. Our federal government was never intended by its founders to be the vehicle by which statisticians and demographers would have access to mounds of data to pore over. The only legitimate purpose of the census is to count the number of Americans in order to determine that each individual receives proper representation in the federal government.

To that end, I will report the number of people in my household. I will not, however, take part in the wealth redistribution research that “will be used to help each community get its fair share of government funds”, according to the Census Bureau’s 130+ million letters sent out last week warning people about the upcoming census and encouraging them to comply. Spend some time reading through the Census Bureau’s own explanation of why they ask each question, and you’ll see that the data they’re mandating you surrender is used for nearly every un-constitutional, socialist, big government program in existence.

Despite the clear text of the Constitution, statutory law has been layered on top giving supposed authority for the Census Bureau to conduct its inquisitions. Two sections in Title 13 of the United States Code provide for a mid-decade census, collection of housing and other data, and surveys to collect statistics “related to the main topic of the census”. Whatever supposed provisions are made by law for these extra-constitutional actions, Thomas Jefferson made clear that they are all invalid:

Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.

No compelling argument can be made that all of the questions being asked by the Census Bureau are legitimate subjects for which the government has been given authority to inquire. Some have argued that the information collected in past censuses has been beneficial for genealogical research and other purposes, but to argue that the end—beneficial though it may be—justifies the means is to ignore the clear fact that the government has exceeded its authority in so doing. Supposed constitutionalists should not abandon their alleged allegiances whenever the end result is one that is generally seen as a net positive; too many usurpations of authority have been achieved in such disguises.

Some instances of usurpations of authority have been instigated by the Census Bureau themselves. Contrary to their placating promises of privacy, this government agency has at least in two specific cases given out narrowly targeted and/or individual information. During World War II, the Bureau delivered confidential information about Japanese Americans to the Justice Department, the Secret Service, and other federal agencies for the express purpose of aiding in the identification and location of these individuals. And just a few years ago, the Bureau provided the Department of Homeland Security with information about people who identified themselves on the 2000 census as being of Arab descent. One recent editorial highlights a disconcerting aspect of this year’s census:

In preparation for this year’s census, 140,000 workers were hired to collect GPS readings for every front door in the nation. Such pinpoint precision will certainly simplify the process of locating any individual or group that may be identified as a threat to “national security” in the future. Remember, for example, the 1976 Senate report in which 26,000 Americans were slated for roundup in the event of a national emergency at the height of the Cold War. Now that the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list has exceeded 1 million, the GPS data could be instrumental in such a roundup.

While some may toy with the idea of civil disobedience in regard to the census, many express concern about the resulting punishment dictated by the very government that has overstepped its bounds to begin with. Disregarding government mandates almost always brings a penalty of some sort, and those who pursue this path of defiance must be willing to accept whatever the corresponding consequence happens to be. In the case of the census, 13 U.S.C. § 221 specifies two levels of fines: up to $100 for failing to complete the census, and up to $500 for knowingly providing false information. Some information suggests a fine with a possible maximum of $5,000 for failure to comply, but this is based on an incorrect reading of the law which applies the larger sum only to already-convicted criminals.

This decade’s census will cost between $13.7 billion and $14.5 billion (with millions of dollars in waste already identified); does anybody really think they’re going to go after somebody for not filling out their form and impose a paltry fine of $100? Answering this themselves, the Census Bureau says:

Although the law makes it a crime not to answer the decennial census, the American Community Survey and other mandatory censuses, and authorizes the courts to impose a fine of up to $5,000 for failure to respond, the Census Bureau views this approach as a last resort. Rather than emphasizing or seeking the imposition of penalties, we encourage response by explaining the importance of the questions we ask and how the information benefits the community.

According to the Denver Regional Director of the Census, Vicki McIntire, the fine has never been levied. “Most people are positive and indicate they will respond,” she recently said. A recent poll shows that 2% of Americans “definitely will not” complete the census.

Then again, the Bureau has been known to play tough with individuals who willingly refuse to participate in their data harvesting scheme. But how much is a strict (and hypocrisy-free) adherence to the Constitution worth these days? Sunshine patriots may tolerate a $100 fine; if the Census Bureau (wrongly) tries to impose a $5,000 fine, what then? Give up, surrender your information (which the federal government really already has), and comply with a direct, un-constitutional mandate because the stakes are a bit higher? At what point is a line in the sand drawn, and the principles we love to quote firmly applied with resolute conviction?

Those who choose to take advantage of this opportunity of civil disobedience will not have any effect on the overall process; the census will continue, and the overwhelming majority of Americans will answer whatever the government asks of them. “Then why bother?”, most would respond. Regardless of what others choose, those who refuse to complete the census will be able to say that they supported and defended the Constitution when they directly and individually had the opportunity to do so. They will be free of hypocrisy when demanding that their elected representatives adhere to the Constitution insofar as they’re able within their sphere of influence, since they will have done the same. And while they may be in the minority, their course is the most effective way to end the un-constitutional portion of the census. Imagine a country where the majority of citizens acted likewise—the government would have no choice but to cancel its operation and only publish the enumeration for which it was able to collect data.

Some may scoff at this idea, considering it a small matter in relation to the bigger problems we face. While it is indeed comparatively insignificant, it is one of the most direct and individual opportunities a person will have to specifically adhere to the Constitution. And if we cannot faithfully uphold the Constitution in regards to small matters, what right do we have to charge others with upholding it in large matters?

46 Responses to “The Census, the Constitution, and Civil Disobedience”

  1. Connor
    March 16, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    Since so many people have asked me about my response to the First Presidency’s letter, I may as well pre-emptively address it here on the blog.

    For those who do not know, the First Presidency of the LDS Church issued a letter last week that reads as follows:

    The United States Constitution mandates that a census be counted every ten years. This census is used to determine the makeup of state legislatures, local school boards, and other government bodies and to determine how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Church also uses census data for planning purposes.

    The Census Bureau will soon deliver census questionnaires to every household in America. We urge all members to respond to them in an accurate and timely manner. It is an important obligation for all citizens to be counted in the census.

    Let’s break it down piece by piece.

    The United States Constitution mandates that a census be counted every ten years.

    Check. Notice they don’t say that statutory law mandates that they be done every five years, nor that surveys be conducted, etc. They are narrowly referring to the enumeration mandated by the Constitution.

    This census is used to determine the makeup of state legislatures, local school boards, and other government bodies and to determine how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Check. The enumeration is used to determine representation, just as this article asserts.

    The Church also uses census data for planning purposes.

    I don’t think the Church needs to know (nor are they given) information about whether I have a toilet, if I own my home, what my income level is, etc. In the context of “planning purposes”, as they state, I cannot interpret this in any other way than to imply that they are talking about the enumeration only.

    The Census Bureau will soon deliver census questionnaires to every household in America. We urge all members to respond to them in an accurate and timely manner. It is an important obligation for all citizens to be counted in the census.

    I received my census in the mail today. I will respond to it in both an accurate and timely manner—I will not provide any misinformation (thus accurately responding) and I will return it within a week’s time.

    And I fully agree with the First Presidency: it is important that all citizens be counted.

    Too many Latter-day Saints, I fear, are reading into this letter something that does not exist. The letter references in several places the count, not the portion that fluctuates based on whatever information the government wants about demographical and sociological issues. As I plan to participate in (but not complete) the census, and as I have read this letter multiple times now, I honestly and sincerely find myself in full compliance with the First Presidency’s letter.

  2. Jake Brown
    March 16, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    I like your article. I think it is well written and it makes your case very strongly. I even agree with most of it, but I do disagree with two things.
    1) I am not bound by the Constitution to not answer. You suggest that it is “hypocrasy” if I want my elected officials to follow the Constitution but then go and respond to all of the questions on the census. You also suggest that someone is a sunshine patriot if they do not stand with you in not filling it out. But, unlike my elected officials, I do not make law and I am free to do as I please. If I want to send a letter to the federal government giving them informatin regarding my race, the race of my family and the fact that we have a mortgage on our home there is nothing unconstitutional about it. In fact the Constitution defends my right to send a letter like that. I could send it without being asked or I can respond to the census; it is the same. So while you may have the right to your civil disobedience it does not make me any less of a patriot that I want to give them this information. Any suggestion otherwise would make the Constitution a tyranical document forcing all to not interact with the government in any way not prescribed by the Constitution itself. The Constitution limits government, it does not limit what I can do.

    2) The letter by the first presidency does not say that they want you to respond to only the questions about enumeration. It says on newsroom that the first presidency encourages all its members to participate in the census. It gives not further clauses excepting certain questions. I see what you are saying, but to get to the point you are making you need to read more into than is there. It simply says they encourage people to participate in it. Saying that they mean to only answer the questions about how many people live there may be what they meant- it is a logical interpretation. But it is not the only thing that they could have meant. To suggest they do not say to not answer the other portions I think is as flawed as members telling you that it says to fill out every question. It could mean either of the two, and neither one is wrong based on the words.

  3. SpecKK
    March 16, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    I think the statistical and economic information could be very useful to communities and businesses. In aggregate form I would be happy to submit my anonymized information for a better understanding of my neighbors and society.

    Unfortunately, the census form is really about unconstitutional federal entitlements. At least they’re honest about why they want the information. Yet too many people are happy to take their federal handouts and don’t see the problem with and inefficiencies in sending a third of their money to DC in hopes of getting a little benefit back. One libertarian suggested a solution to the entitlement mentality, “no representation without taxation.”

    For now, I’m afraid that scare tactics about past and possible abuses of census data are the best discouragement. I can think of dozens of ways governments have abused all groups of people based on race, education, income, etc..

    It’s also curious that they want to geocode precisely where I live along with my name and birthdate. The census, like voting, should be anonymous to protect me from abuses by retaliatory despots. The USC Census fines just reinforce the danger of trusting these tyrants with anything.

    As for running a major ad campaign on my tax dollars? They could have done half the mailings and ads, and still reached everyone. With all the bureaucrats and ad agencies involved, who can I hold accountable for all this waste?

    p.s. I love the ominous Census propaganda. Way to portray the current administration as Caesar ordering serfs around for money and maintenance of the power structure of the empire. “Don’t be Afraid”. . .

  4. Connor
    March 16, 2010 at 7:24 pm #


    I’ll respond briefly to both points.

    #1: You are correct that the Constitution does not bind you to not answer. This is not my point at all. My point is that the government has no authority to ask these questions to collect such information, and therefore their attempts to do so should be rejected.

    Think of it this way: the President orders the Secretary of the Treasury to offer each citizen $1 million in treasury bonds as a stimulus. You are not constitutionally bound to reject this offer, but again, that’s not the point. The point is that the government shouldn’t be doing this in the first place, and to help hold them accountable, we should all reject their attempts to stimulate the economy.

    You seem to understand this since you conclude this point by saying that the Constitution limits government. In this, you are correct. However, I believe you have failed to understand how that applies to the census; as the government is limited to only enumerate its citizens, all other questions are invalid, predicated on an abuse of authority, and should not be asked. Since they are being asked, you and I as individuals should do our part to hold them accountable to their limited, delegated authority by refusing to comply.

    #2: The First Presidency did not say that members should participate—the PR department added that as their title to introduce the letter. The letter itself contains no such language. Even if it did, I would be in compliance since I will be participating. To participate does not necessarily mean doing the entire thing, just as participating in a choir does not mean that you sing in every single song.


    I agree that the statistical information could be (and, well, is) very useful. But the federal government need not be the one to collect it. I would much prefer a private organization doing this research and providing the data, since they would be bound by market forces. If they breached the public trust, they would suffer economically, and somebody else would take their place or provide a better service. They would acquire their data through peaceful means (not threatening fines and such), stick to a budget they set (rather than being assured whatever money they need through forcible taxation), and no doubt run things in a much more streamlined and efficient manner.

    I’m not against having this type of data at all. I am, however, against the federal government taking on this task despite the clear text of the Constitution which contains no such delegation of authority.

  5. Walter Reade
    March 16, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    I’m putting my race as: “Other: Mormo-American”

  6. Connor
    March 16, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    An important portion of an 1894 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which to my knowledge has never been overturned, reads:

    We do not overlook those constitutional limitations which, for the protection of personal rights, must necessarily attend all investigations conducted under the authority of congress. Neither branch of the legislative department, still less any merely administrative body, established by congress, possesses, or can be invested with, a general power of making inquiry into the private affairs of the citizen. We said in Boyd v. U. S.,-and it cannot be too often repeated,-that the principles that embody the essence of constitutional liberty and security forbid all invasions on the part of the government and its employees of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of his life. As said by Mr. Justice Field in Re Pacific Ry. Commission, ‘of all the rights of the citizen, few are of greater importance or more essential to his peace and happiness than the right of personal security, and that involves, not merely protection of his person from assault, but exemption of his private affairs, books, and papers from the inspection and scrutiny of others. Without the enjoyment of this right, all others would lose half their value.’

  7. Sean
    March 16, 2010 at 9:28 pm #

    I like your emphasis on citizens doing what we can *in our sphere of influence* to uphold the Constitution. That’s a principle that can empower all of us.

    March 17, 2010 at 12:09 am #

    It’s chilling the lengths the government will go to directly indoctrinate our kids. This time they used Dora The Explorer:

    March 17, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    “Dora is featured prominently in The Leadership Conference Education Fund’s new “Kids and the Census” materials, which are designed to raise awareness and understanding among lower income and minority stakeholders of the importance of the decennial count to the well-being of their communities and their families.” Wow, the [well-being] of their communities. Isn’t that special?

  10. Paula N.
    March 17, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post! Our household received the stupid American Community Survey, chock full of invasive and intrusive questions. I crossed out the pages I didn’t want to answer and noted on them that I refused to answer those questions. I also wrote a letter and enclosed it with the form expressing our family’s concerns about the questions. .I doubt it will help, but at least I expressed my unhappiness!

    One of my issues is that the requested information is in no way anonymous or private. There is a bar code on the form with our address, so therefore there is no option for an anonymous survey. If the government really feels it needs to know how many flush toilets are in my house, or what my husband’s job was last week, or how much our property taxes are, or how much we pay for sewer/garbage/water, then provide a method for that information to be collected anonymously. I wouldn’t mind doing it then (maybe). But having it forced on me without any option to stay anonymous is ridiculously intrusive.

    I’m also not crazy about the Census Bureau essentially stalking me to get the form back. That’s just plain obnoxious and does NOT make me willing to provide any more info than I absolutely have to provide. I wonder if the First Presidency knows about the American Community Survey and realizes how bad it is. I was frankly amazed at the response online when I said I wouldn’t provide all the information on that survey. You’d think I’d said that Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet or something. Not at all the same thing, in my opinion. This is not a gospel principle to follow; it is governmental intrusion of the highest order.

  11. rmwarnick
    March 17, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    Census information is widely used and freely available for geographic information systems and research of all kinds. It’s a tremendous economic tool, worth hundreds of times what it costs to collect the data.

    Fortunately, the few Luddites who don’t like the Census don’t have the power to stop it.

    I think it’s hilarious that Rep. Michele Bachmann stopped urging her constituents to break the law when she realized that a Census under-count might lead to the elimination of her seat in Congress.

  12. John M
    March 17, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    Now, If I was the government and wanted a list of people who were potential troublemakers then I would simply compile a list of those who refused to completely fill out their census sheets.

  13. Jim Davis
    March 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm #


    Great job refuting the legal and moral issues that Connor presented in this post. We’re all convinced… The economic ends justify the intrusive/illegal means. Anyone who isn’t completely obedient to their government are Luddites. Gotcha!

  14. rmwarnick
    March 17, 2010 at 3:10 pm #


    You want me to take the “some laws aren’t legal” argument seriously? Where were you and the other newly-anointed right-wing constitutional guardians when Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the FISA amendments?

  15. Jim Davis
    March 17, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    Where were you and the other newly-anointed right-wing constitutional guardians when Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the FISA amendments?

    I was arguing with other people (who professed to be conservatives) that the patriot act and the military commissions act were were un-Constitutional (therefore illegal). Don’t assume that just because I’m a “Constitutional guardian” today that I wasn’t during Bush’s administration.

    Nice try smearing me with that broad brush tactic though.

    • Connor
      March 17, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

      Nice try smearing me with that broad brush tactic though.

      Nearly every comment by rmwarnick on this blog consists of such an ignorant attack. I’ve called him out on it several times, but he doesn’t listen. Instead, he goes a couple months without commenting here, and then pops his head up on some other occasion to say essentially the same thing… over and over and over again.

      It’s quite tiresome, but it’s apparently all he knows.

  16. Jim Davis
    March 17, 2010 at 3:30 pm #

    To reinforce what Thomas Jefferson wrote about un-Constitutional laws…

    Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.

    I thought this quote by Joseph Smith might help persuade any LDS who don’t understand what Jefferson meant:

    Shall we be such fools as to be governed by its laws, which are unconstitutional? No!…The Constitution acknowledges that the people have all power not reserved to itself. (Joseph Smith, Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution)

    Indeed, some laws aren’t legal.

    March 17, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    @Paula N.: Thanks for posting your experience with the AC Survey. I just learned about the survey yesterday. It’s nice to hear from someone who has actually received this unconstitutional piece of government intrusion.
    @rmwarnick: “Luddite?” You taught me a new word. Thanks!

  18. Alyssa
    March 17, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    Connor, I’m confused. I just filled out my census report and all it asked me about was the name, age, birthday and race of all the members of my household. There were no additional questions and there wasn’t any mention of a website or anything else that asked me to give more information about myself. Sounds like you’re making a straw man argument to me… Getting all worked up over nothing?

  19. Connor
    March 17, 2010 at 4:23 pm #


    You’ve missed the point of my post, apparently. The only constitutional authority they have is to ask how many people live in your home. That’s all. No names, no ages, no birthdays, no race, etc.

    As for the other, more invasive questions, those are part of the American Community Survey which is being sent to 1 in every 6 households, declared as mandatory, and backed up with fear-mongering and threats of a fine of up to $5,000 for non-compliance.

    No straw men here.

  20. Connor
    March 17, 2010 at 9:08 pm #

    I think it’s also important to understand exactly what the Constitution says, as many people I talk to about this seem to be confused. To “enumerate” does not mean to ascertain all sorts of personal information, or to identify people, or anything else other than a count.

    To understand its use in the Constitution, it’s best to try to determine the definition of the word itself. For that, Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary is a wonderful resource. Here is his definition of “enumerate”:

    To count or tell, number by number; to reckon or mention a number of things, each separately; as, to enumerate the stars in a constellation; to enumerate particular acts of kindness; we cannot enumerate our daily mercies.

    The Constitution, then, only authorizes a counting of individuals—not the collection of all sorts of demographical and personal information about them.

  21. Clumpy
    March 18, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    Connor – I agree about the definition of the word “enumerate” (its root essentially coming from the word “numeral”), however I disagree with your interpretation of its scope.

    First, the First Presidency mentions that the Census will be used to determine school boards, implying that some count of schoolage children is prudent. The age of citizens is certainly a count, though it’s also a count of an aspect of society used for governmental planning. While you could argue that no possible Constitutional application could come of the other data, it’s certainly not a different type of information gathering than that used by the Federal Census almost since its inception. (Besides, working an argument which passes your Constitutional muster into a Church statement while they are so clearly citing the importance the Census will provide to public schools is beyond silly.)

    After this point I get pretty indignant.

    The American Community Survey merely replaces the long form on the Federal Census which was included beginning in 1940, before which every household responding to the census was forced to answer a litany of personal questions including many of the following:

    – Whether citizens could read or write (through 1930)

    – Crop inquiries and manufacturing (1880)

    – Number in the household deaf or dumb, mentally ill (1850 Census)

    – Value of property (1850 and earlier)

    – Vocation of individuals in the family whether agriculture, commerce or manufacture (1820(!)).

    Have you seen those ancient, barely-readable Census forms? Yup, those fields for “race”, “occupation”, “place of birth”, “mother tongue” and “trade” aren’t typos.

    Connor, the Census was always intended to be a decennial census, so I suppose you could make the argument that the scheduling of the ACS is itself unconstitutional, as they’re sending it out on a monthly basis in order for it to be fricking possible to send to so many people, but this becomes a matter of organization rather than form, and form is the argument you are so clearly making in your post. The sillier, more recent questions obviously intended for further pork spending are no more dangerous than these examples, nor do they represent more invasive questioning.

    Your central thesis appears to be one of government intrusion and delusions of grandeur, which is a fair point to make but appears to be an urgent, pressing matter by your language and lack of context. In reality the new Census reflects merely the (only slightly) changing form of the document through the last 190 or so years of U.S. history, with very invasive questions included for nearly two centuries (since the 1820 Census, when the document began to include questions beyond counting the number of men, women, children and slaves in the household).

    When you talk this way, you bring out the crazies who prefer to understand neither history nor context in the pursuit of constant outrage at this administration, and you oughta know it. You could make the case that the modern age of technology makes this data more ripe for abuse, or otherwise put your argument into historical context, but making your point this way only brings out the type of people who have little interest or motivation to understand the point you’re really making upon stumbling over here from the darkest, most hateful districts of cyberspace. Make the historical case (as you did), but points of convenience (such as portraying the ACS as unprecedented when in fact the entire census including those type of questions had been simplified in order to accomodate the ACS – everybody had to answer these questions a century back) do everybody a disservice.

    Now, this GPS stuff, on the other hand, does frighten me. I can’t really find a source other than the partisan drivel at WorldNetDaily for the rationale behind this plan or think of a reason other than bureaucracy for the policy, though I think popular anonymity is an important check against tyranny and this has to go.

  22. Clumpy
    March 18, 2010 at 1:03 am #

    Connor, in retrospect I recognize that I totally overdid my argument. Upon rereading your original post the “urgency” of your argument appears far less strong than I first felt. My objections remain but are far less vitriolic than they may appear to be here (I hope you understand that I really only have one style of writing so I usually appear more forceful than I am).

    I suppose that if the crazies do come out, it will be because you merely discussed the topic, not because of your treatment of it. I was reacting to them, not you. The alternative (to never discuss anything of value) would be absurd. In short, sorry.

  23. rmwarnick
    March 18, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    Connor often goes for long periods of time without writing anything I’m interested in reading, hence the infrequent comments. 😉

  24. Jeffrey T
    March 18, 2010 at 11:44 pm #


    Could you possibly believe that those of us who believe in these principles also opposed Bush? Or is that an impossible proposition?

  25. Brian
    March 21, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

    The constitution is the foundation upon which statutory law stands. How can statutory law be of any use if one uses the constitution as the sole document upon which to decide questions of law on any (all) topic? I’m trying to point out that we shouldn’t ignore statutory law in all cases nor quote the constitution as if it was the only law we had. Where does the constitution end and statutory law legally begin? Connor says that “Two sections in Title 13 of the United States Code provide for a mid-decade census, collection of housing and other data, and surveys to collect statistics “related to the main topic of the census”.”

    So I say again, where does statutory law end? Why do we throw all of the statutory law out in this case, declaring it “unconstitutional”? I anticipate that the rebuttal to this question will be to answer that the government outlines powers and statutory law must stay within those powers….. and if you say that, you’d be right.

    In this case, it seems to me that the relevant statutory law clearly goes out of its bounds, but that’s really for the courts to decide. I’m not meaning to agree nor disagree with Connor’s point. My point is to raise awareness that the apparent clashes between statutory law and the constitution are decided by court decisions and are a lot more complicated than just looking at the constitution (and nothing else) and using that as a basis to declare something “unconstitutional”. (Not saying that Connor is doing this.)

  26. Brian
    March 22, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    This sentence:
    “I anticipate that the rebuttal to this question will be to answer that the *government* outlines powers and statutory law must stay within those powers….. and if you say that, you’d be right.”

    Should be:
    “I anticipate that the rebuttal to this question will be to answer that the *constitution* outlines powers and statutory law must stay within those powers….. and if you say that, you’d be right.”

  27. L. Brown
    March 25, 2010 at 4:38 am #


    Dude, get a life.

  28. oldmama
    March 25, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    it all feels like a ‘catch 22’ to me–

    I feel sad about it.

    Kind of like I got in over my head when I ‘volunteered’ to be an American in the late 1900s/early 2000s.

    Anyone with me?

  29. Krysta W
    March 29, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    My husband and I have decided not to fill out the census this year. This is the first census that we have been required to participate in (we are in our early twenties). I have two young children and besides the fact that the questions that they are asking are unconstitutional (any judge who deems otherwise is not defending our constitution and should be thrown out), but we also feel that it is perpetuating the race wars that our government is fueling. Also and this may sound completely paranoid but I do not trust our New World Order government and I will not provide them any information about my children. We answered questions 1 and 2 (how many people and do any of them also live in another home). We plan to lawyer up and should we loose we will pay the fine – I WILL NOT GIVE IN TO THESE THUGS. Thanks for the article – knowledge is power. Anyone who thinks we are crazy or care too much needs a serious reality check. They may be willing to submit, but I won’t. I care too much about myself and my children to give in to a thug government. To quote Ben Franklin – Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither.

  30. Liz
    March 29, 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    I’m creeped out by our government right now too, Krysta. If this cra* keeps up I’m moving to Fiji.

    Yep I relate with this article, however I was expecting Connor to have some really clever gimmick we could all unite in applying to our shady government in an effort to strengthen the resistence. Sigh*

  31. Connor
    April 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    Check out this video. It’s the Director of the Census Bureau trying to argue that the portion of the Census clause that says “in such Manner as they shall by Law direct” gives Congress the authority to allow for, well, pretty much whatever question they want.

    This guy’s using the same argument as the general welfare crowd—that this language does not apply to the provisions that precede it, but that they are an implicit cession of ultimate authority to do whatever is desired.

    Reading the clause in its entirety could not make things more clear: the congress is given the authority to implement an enumeration only, and that enumeration can be carried out in the manner that they shall direct. In other words, they can specific on what date it will be done, how soon the data should be returned, if the U.S. Postal Service is to be used, or carrier pigeons, or whatever. It does not give them free license to inquire about whatever topic they deem necessary or important or beneficial.

  32. Rob Alexander
    May 15, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    A nice Census Bureau lady stopped by my house today and didn’t know what to do when I told her I would only answer the question about how many people live here. 🙂 I then pulled up this blog post and shared some of it with her, for which she was appreciative. Thanks, Connor. B-)

  33. Rob Alexander
    May 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    The Census Bureau lady stopped by again today and wanted to know if I would at least answer the questions regarding ethnicity, gender, and age. I asked her what would happen if I didn’t. She said that I would receive four more visits and then my neighbors would be asked to divulge that information about my household. I told her that I don’t want either of those to happen, even though I won’t answer any of the questions except the one about the number of residents. She gave me her supervisor’s name and phone number to call on Monday. 😛

  34. Eric Blair
    August 15, 2010 at 5:04 pm #

    I had a census worker come to my house yesterday (since I didn’t answer all the questions in the questionnaire that I’d mailed back to them).

    First, I was upset that she asked some of the questions that I did answer in the form I mailed. Did they read it? I hate duplication of effort.

    Basically, I told her two people lived here and our ages. When she started asking questions about any relatives, renters, if I’d lived anywhere else, and a bunch of associated questions, I held up two fingers and said, “TWOOOOO, I told you two people live here. That’s it, no more, no less.”

    Then she wanted to know if I rented, had a mortgage, or owned. I told her that was the most offensive question in the form. Interesting that she said she agreed with me. I told her I wouldn’t answer.

    She start asking about race, etc. I told her I refused to declare. So she asked me for my phone number. I again refused. Up to now she was nice, but at that point seemed to be a little perturbed. She said that since I wouldn’t give a number that someone would keep coming back again and again. I said, pleasantly, “OK, but I’ve given all the answers I’m going to give.”

  35. Elaine M. Musial
    November 3, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    Interestingly enough, I just recently received the community survey and it is November–what’s up with that?? I truly resent being asked to provide this information and am not planning to complete. When I called the Census Bureau, and asked where in the Constitution I was required to provide more than the number of people living in my household, the person at the Bureau could not answer. If it is so critical to have this information, why doesn’t the Census Bureau obtain it from the many other sources where summarized community data is already available?? I feel that my selection is discrimatory, in that I was picked out because I recorded HUMAN under race on the original census.


    November 3, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    @Elaine: “HUMAN” LOL

  37. Kelly W.
    November 4, 2010 at 8:33 am #

    yeh, what is this “community survey” anyway? Who is funding it and for what reasons?

  38. Elaine M. Musial
    November 13, 2010 at 6:18 am #

    It’s funded by the census and wants information about how much my monthly electric and gas bills are, how much I pay for water and sewer, how much my mortgage is, how many rooms are in my house, level of education, how much money I make……..It seems very intrusive to me. I do not see how we got from a count to all of the details of my world.

  39. J. S.
    November 28, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    We were just sent the community survey. It says this address was randomly chosen. I gave only names and ages in the April census. I dont think this is random.

  40. Kelly W.
    December 4, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    I just got a phone call from the community survey. I asked how he got my name, address and phone number. He said it came from a data base. I asked if I was randomly chosen, he said no, every household in USA will get one, but they are only doing 250,000 at a time. He said that the survey is how funds are allocated to communities for funding, and I replied that my community doesn’t need funding, especially since the government is broke. He replied that the gov is not broke, and that my community really DOES need the funds. I asked why I had to give info, what law says I should tell more than what was on the census – he replied that a new law under Bush changed that. He kept asking whether I received the survey in the mail, and I replied that I might incriminate myself if I replied either yes or no to that question. He said he’d put me on a list of people who refused to cooperate. Hmmmm.

  41. Elaine
    December 14, 2010 at 3:45 pm #

    I have been getting phone call after phone call from the Census Bureau regarding my lack of response. I figure that they’ll be knocking on my door soon. When I am in federal prison for not responding, please send books!!

  42. Kelly W.
    December 29, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    I received a second phone call from the census bureau. They wanted additional info. They wanted to know my address. They wanted to know what I did for a living. They wanted to know my income and my spouse’s income. They wanted to know the amount of my property taxes. They wanted to know if I had house insurance. They wanted to know the amount of my inheritances or public assistance. I told them they already had my address. I told them I worked for a living. I told them I didn’t know my income or my spouse’s since I hadn’t done my taxes and wouldn’t do them until April 15th. I told them I got unemployment insurance for 3 weeks but never received a check, but it simply appeared in my bank account. I told them I may or may not have house insurance. She kept pressing me on my income, and I told her I made 26 million dollars. She asked if that’s what she should write down, and I told her that she better put down that I made less than 26 million. She kept pressing me on my spouse’s income. I told her that my spouse also made less than 26 million. She thanked me for my time. She also asked if there were only X number of residents at my house, and I replied that at times there were more, and at times there were less.

  43. Kelly W.
    December 29, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    She also told me that the community survey is mandated by law and that I must answer. I asked where I could read such a law. She told me to call my congressperson and they’d tell me. I told her all they do is lie, and that I cannot trust anything they say.

  44. Scot
    December 9, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    Try operating a business. You’ll get several surveys from the Census Bureau every quarter demanding every financial detail of your business.

    There are monthly Construction Project Reports if you’re building anything that demand every financial detail about the construction.

    There are Manufacturing Energy Consumption Surveys that are 62 pages long and demand every detail about every source of energy you use, where it is used, and how much you pay for it.

    There are Quarterly Surveys of Plant Capacity Utilization that demand to know the value of what you have produced, the % capacity that you were operating, and how much you could produce in an emergency situation.

    There are Annual Surveys of Manufacturers that are 15 pages long and demand every detail about your payroll, your income, and your expenses.

    I know this is an old story, but I found it in a google search while I was frustrated about another stupid socialist Census survey.

  45. Gregg B Hughes
    January 15, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    The Census Bureau, in collecting “data” authorized by statute, will tell you that Title 13 U.S.C. protects the confidentiality of all of the responses/information collected. These confidentiality guarantees are not new. They have been existant for as long as the collection of data has been a function of the census process. How valuable and protective are they? In 1864, in his “March to the Sea”, Gen. Wm. T Sherman used 1860 census data to assist him in his conquest. In 1942, the government used 1940 census data identifying Japanese-American citizens and legal immigrants, to locate and apprehend “Japanese” for transportation to relocation centers.

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