April Fool's: Census Day


Did you mail your census form in? You can be fined up to $5,000 for not doing so and for refusing to cooperate when you are visited by a deputy of the U.S. government, who will come to your home to get the answers out of you if you happen to lose your form.

Fined? For not answering intrusive questions? Par for the course, I’m afraid. The Constitution tells the government to count heads every decade, of course, but where’s the authority to force us to comply? And why does no one else ask such a question? I imagine the authorities, if ever compelled to answer that question, would reply: “Why the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of course.” It’s in the revered Article I, Section 8:

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

If so, this once again vindicates the Antifederalists, who railed against the clause as giving a virtual blank check to the strong central government established by the Constitution. (The relevant comparison was weak quasigovernment under the Articles of Confederation.) Woe to us that these prophets were not heeded.

But Roderick Long has an answer to the authorities on this count:

[I]t’s worth noting that all the Constitution authorizes is the mere conducting of a census; it doesn’t authorize mandating compliance, since forcing people to answer is not essential to the conducting of a census. (Private groups conduct surveys all the time without enjoying such power.) So as I read the Constitution (though of course the government doesn’t give a damn about how I read it), even if one accepts the Constitution’s authority there is still no legally binding obligation to answer any of the questions.

He goes on:

Now it might be objected that the Constitution also grants Congress the “power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” its powers – and the power to compel compliance might thereby be taken to be “necessary” to the end of enumerating the citizens.

But even if it is necessary, what’s authorized is legislation that’s necessary and proper; and compelling compliance with the census is not “proper.”

How do we know it ’s not “proper” in the Constitutional sense of that term? By appeal to [Lysander] Spooner’s 7th, 12th, and 14th rules of legal interpretation.

And I also want to register my offense at the government’s racially classifying us. The State wants to know not only how many people live in our homes and what relationship they have to us.  It wants to know each person’s race and whether he or she is Hispanic.

When are we going to cease putting up with these impositions?



Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and, and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families.

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