The Census... the Constitution... and Civil Disobedience

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 03/23/2010 - 2:50pm.

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?

Connor Boyack - March 23, 2010 - posted at RevolutionaryPolitics

Connor Boyack is a web developer, political economist, and budding philanthropist trying to change the world one byte at a time. He blogs at Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or send him mail.

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 03/23/2010 - 2:50pm.