Are You Obligated to Tell the Government How Many Toilets you Have?

Posted on March 16, 2010


That’s a question, believe it or not, you will have to answer depending on which of the census forms you receive this year. The government will be sending out two forms, one simple version which essentially only asks for a head count and one much longer version that asks very personal, and very irrelevant, questions. Failure to answer any of the questions is a crime which carries a $100 per question refused penalty, to a maximum of $5,000.

There are many reasons one might not want to tell the government every detail of their lives, for example, what their ethnic background is. During World War II Roosevelt allowed the FBI to use census data to round up Japanese-Americans for internment, an incredibly illegal act.

The Constitution only establishes the counting of persons for the apportionment of the Congress, not the collecting of additional information.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.  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.

–Article 1, Section 2

This was modified slightly by the 14th Amendment to account for the abolition of slavery and the end of the “Three-Fifths Compromise.”

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.

–14th Amendment, Section 2

So, the government may count the persons in the United States. But should you have to answer additional questions? Is that a violation of your due process rights, specifically the right to remain silent?

Let’s take  a look at some of the questions. You can feel free to check out this document supplied to Congress by the Census Bureau which tells us exactly what’s in the census. As I mentioned before there are two different forms. Most people will get the short form which asks about the following: race, age, gender, Hispanic origin, relationship to others, and tenure in the household. There may also be administrative questions.

The short form is only ten questions, but even some of those are dangerous and unconstitutional in my view. We’ve already mentioned how answers about ethnicity have led to mass race-based detentions. Now, it seems unlikely that something like that would happen again, at least in the near future. So what? Why should any American be compelled to answer questions that the US government is not constitutionally entitled to ask?

And that’s just the short form, the long form is now known as the “American Community Survey” – how can something so friendly sounding be anything other than fluffy and wonderful? The list of questions is ridiculously long and many of the questions have nothing to do with any reasonable purpose of our elected representatives, at least not under the Constitution.

If you are selected as the lucky winner of one of these “community surveys” you’ll be required, by law, to tell the government about all the questions from the short form, plus fork over information about:

  • marital status
  • fertility (really?!??)
  • place of birth
  • language spoken at home
  • educational attainment and school enrollment
  • disability
  • income
  • occupation
  • journey to work (seriously…)
  • place of work last year
  • how many vehicles available
  • year your home was built
  • year you moved in
  • number of rooms
  • number of bedrooms
  • kitchen facilities
  • plumbing facilities
  • house heating fuel
  • telephone service
  • health insurance coverage
  • marital history
  • and many, many more

As you read those did any possible abuses come to mind? What does fertility have to do with ANYTHING? Why am I required to answer that? I have to announce if I’m disabled? I am now seriously questioning whether I will answer anything on my census other than the head count and identifying information. You have to draw the line somewhere, and my bathroom seems like about as good a place as any.

While you think about that issue below is a great exchange on Judge Napolitano’s “Freedom Watch” program. It’s a great exchange on this very issue.

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