Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Response on the Census

In response to my last post, a faithful reader (one of my most faithful readers, actually), objected. I was commenting about people who are protesting the census, and faithful reader "Peter" commented:

"It seems that when dissent and protest of government action suits you (during a Republican administration, perhaps), civil disobedience is a sacred and patriotic duty. But when it doesn't suit you, it's kooky and unpatriotic.

"Ignoring the census is, for many, a form of civil disobedience. And a rather mild one at that. . . ."

Not an unreasonable point, Peter, but here are two responses:

1. There's a distinction between "dissent and protest" and breaking the law. If people want to march around with signs protesting the census (or draft registration, or income tax), that's one thing. But breaking the law -- e.g., not paying income tax, not registering for the draft, or not returning the census form when required by law to do so -- is something else. I don't enjoy paying income tax, but I do it because it's required by law. I wasn't wild about draft registration when it was instituted, but I registered, because it was required by law. I'm not saying one should never break the law (we'll get to that in the next point), but let's at least recognize that there are lots of ways to dissent from and protest public policy without actually breaking the law.

2. Yes, America has a long tradition of civil disobedience. But I only respect those who engage in civil disobedience if they're ready to accept the penalties. When Ben Sasway was upset about draft registration in the 1980s, he wrote a public letter to the President about it, saying that he wasn't going to register. He got prosecuted. I respected that. That was civil disobedience. But when people simply throw away their census forms, or don't pay their taxes, that's not civil disobedience, that's just crime. The essence of civil disobedience, I think, is that one breaks the law and accepts the penalties, in the hope of convincing society to change the law.

Of course, if the census forms were really unconstitutional, one could lawfully throw them away. But I covered that earlier. The census is constitutional and has been so held by the courts for decades.

OK, maybe the term "census kooks" was a little harsh. But really, people should do 5 minutes of research before proclaiming the census to be unconstitutional. If you just Google "census constitutional," the second result is the Census Bureau's web page citing the cases that hold the census to be constitutional. You can't just point out that the Census Clause doesn't require all the questions on the census (which is true) and proclaim the census to be unconstitutional. At least do the research. Thanks to Google, it doesn't take long.


Anonymous said...

The April Fool's Census, and Health Care

I received a letter alerting me that the Census form would soon be arriving in the mail. A week later, the form arrived.

One week after the form arrived, I received a post card from Robert M. Groves, Director of the US Census Bureau, thanking me me if I had already sent it in, and admonishing me to be sure to do so as soon as possible. I haven't sent it yet, because the form requires me to list the persons who live at my address on April 1, 2010.

How can I honestly fill out the form before that day arrives?

The 2010 Census has all the appearances of an April Fool's Day hoax, or at lease an indication of the quality of federal bureaucrats.

If this is the best the Census Bureau can do after 220 or so years of practice, requiring respondents to falsify data, what is in store for us with federal health care?

Jon Siegel said...

This is not some impossible paradox. If you fill out the form now, you will be predicting who will be living at the address on April 1. I have considerable confidence that I know who will be living at my address on that date.

Anonymous said...

Of course it is easy to assume that nothing will change by April Fool's Day.

Nonetheless, it is false to make the statement before the fact. The wording is in the past tense, "...was living at ...on April 1...."

Why is there even a date in the form? SInce the Director ignores it, and even wastes millions of dollars to send out his notice before the specified date, why are we not free to ignore any other part of the form?

I simply choose to wait until the date the form specifies to send it in.

If they only treated the April 15th date with the same indifference....