‘Should the Census return to its original mission — just counting people?’ YES NO
OAKLAND, CALIF. — The U.S. Census Bureau is preparing for its next constitutionally mandated national head count, to be held in 2020.
Unfortunately, the Bureau’s 2020 Operation Plan reveals that an actual enumeration of the population — the only thing constitutionally permitted — will be but a small part of the overall effort.
The 192-page document filled with bureaucratic gobbledygook reminds us why the census should return to its original simplicity.
Article I, section 2 of the Constitution states that “Representatives ... shall be apportioned among the several States ... according to their respective Numbers.”
It further requires that “the actual Enumeration,” or headcount, shall be made every ten years, in such Manner as Congress shall by Law direct.
In proposing legislation for the first census, James Madison suggested that the government gather other “useful information” that would assist Congress in learning about the country and in crafting legislation.
The first Congress, however, rejected Madison’s grandiose plans for the census. Instead, the 1790 census was a model of simplicity that asked five questions focusing on a general count of the population.
The 2020 Operation Plan eschews a mere count and seeks information that will be used to calculate everything from employment and crime rates to health and educational background.
The Bureau even asserts that decennial data is necessary so private businesses can examine it “to make decisions about whether or where to locate their restaurants or stores.”
In other words, the Bureau appears to believe that without government intrusion into our lives entrepreneurs will be struck blind and thus be unable to allocate capital toward beneficial projects.
Such wild claims are preposterous. Moreover, going further than the enumeration exceeds constitutional authority and undermines provisions of the Bill of Rights, which is meant to secure our liberties against governmental encroachment.
For example, the First Amendment to the Constitution seeks to protect the people’s right to freedom of speech. By forcing people to answer questions beyond a humble count, the Bureau compels people to engage in speech.
The idea that the First Amendment prohibits government from compelling speech has deep roots in American constitutional law.
Indeed, in 1943, in a case known as West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court relied upon this doctrine when it struck down a school policy requiring all children to salute the flag.
The Fourth Amendment secures the people in their homes against unreasonable searches and seizures. A core principle of that amendment is personal privacy — the right to be let alone.
The great Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once observed that to secure this right “every unjustifiable intrusion by the Government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
The Census Bureau should recognize that questions beyond an enumeration intrude upon our right to be let alone and thus should form no part of the census.
There is also a real threat that government can misuse information collected from the census, as the Roosevelt administration did when, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it used census data to locate Japanese Americans and facilitate their relocation to internment camps.
This mass deprivation of civil rights was a dark blot on the otherwise heroic efforts of the so-called Greatest Generation.
The decennial census is a constitutional necessity, but it need not be an informational fishing expedition. The first census asked five questions and the process of counting has not changed in the last 227 years to require more.
Let’s go back to a simple enumeration and stop compelling speech and invasion of privacy
William J. Watkins Jr. is a research fellow at the Independent Institute. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Clemson University and law degree from the University of South Carolina. Readers may write him at Independent Institute, 100 Swan Way, Oakland, CA 94621.
TAMPA, FLA. — There are plenty of interests, most of them with dubious intentions, that would like to abandon the way the U.S. Census Bureau traditionally conducts its decennial “hands-on” counting of the population of the United States.
The Trump administration and its political backers understand that to control the outcome of the census is to control the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College.
The state-by-state apportionment of 435 House seats and the allotment of 435 of the 538 presidential electors between the states are based on the latest census.
There are those on the political right who insist the Census Bureau should concentrate its efforts on merely counting heads, without any regard for collecting statistics on race, age, ethnic group, gender, and income level.
There have also been calls for the census to include sexual orientation statistics. By not determining the actual population of minority groups, census result could and would be used for the gerrymandering of congressional districts, particularly in urban areas, to ensure African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented in the House of Representatives.
It is important that every American subject to the census understand that our country’s founders believed that a 10-year counting of the population was so important that they mandated it in the U.S. Constitution.
America’s founding document states in Article I, Section 2 that “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States ... according to their respective Numbers ... 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.”
Those conservative quarters, from which is heard a constant refrain of strictly interpreting the Constitution, are more than happy to financially cut corners for the constitutionally-mandated census.
Some on the political right suggest that Americans could be counted more efficiently and at a lower cost over the Internet. That would be a dream-come-true for the right.
The homeless, poor rural residents, and many senior citizens and disabled people would go uncounted.
Slash-and-burn Republican policymakers would use an undercounting of the most vulnerable Americans to take a budget ax to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Head Start, public education, veterans’ and public health clinics, unemployment assistance, familyowned farm support, and other social safety net programs.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, a billionaire banker who wore $500 custom-made bedroom slippers to Donald Trump’s first address to Congress last February, may see his department’s Census Bureau as unnecessary and financially burdensome to his department’s overall budget.
However, Ross would be violating his constitutional oath if he did not provide the Census Bureau with all the tools it requires to conduct the most accurate and politics-free census as possible.
The census should also ensure maximum privacy for the providers of information, especially since the Trump administration is jam-packed with those who might decide to sell personal census data to their friends in the information brokerage industry.
Secretary Ross testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that he was seeking a two-percent increase in the Census Bureau’s budget for Fiscal Year 2018.
Ross should be congratulated for increasing the budget of the bureau. However, Ross’s prioritization for the “strategic reuse” of census data by other government departments and the private sector is a worrisome sign.
Ross said nothing about the privacy controls for such potentially personally-identifiable data. Census data, like voter registration data held by the states, should not be used by private actors to micro-target Americans with various schemes.
That is not the purpose for census data and any suggestion to the contrary is not in keeping with the wishes of America’s founders.
A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Wayne Madsen is a progressive commentator whose writings have appeared in leading American and European newspapers. Readers may write him at 415 Choo Choo Lane, Valrico, FL 3359