The federal government may not be able to balance its budget or even pass an appropriation bill on time, but it certainly can tell other people what to do.

The U.S. Census Bureau is now sending out an “American Community Survey” demanding that randomly selected citizens answer personal questions about themselves. With their usual sense of discretion, the feds include a line in the cover letter saying you are violating federal law if you don’t’ respond.

A reader sent me the questionnaire. I’m pretty jaded where the federal government is concerned, but even I found the arrogance astounding. In addition to demanding the usual data for the “diversity” police (such as the race of everyone in the home) the questions include

* Personal finances (e.g. income, whether you have a second mortgage, etc.).

* What time you usually left home to go to work last week.

* Whether you have difficulty doing errands alone.

* What fuel you use to heat your home.

* How many times you have been married, and

* Whether you have difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.

The Constitution authorizes the U.S. Census for two reasons: (1) to determine how many representatives each state receives in Congress and (2) the population of each state for the purpose of apportioning direct taxes.

So what are the reasons for questions such as whether you have “difficulty making decisions?” The Census Bureau letter accompanying the survey tells the victim that the results are used “to meet the needs of communities across the United States” and “to decide whether new schools, hospitals, and fire stations are needed.” Within state lines, of course, such matters are outside the federal government’s enumerated powers, at least as correctly construed. Which tells us something about the legality of the survey.

How you react is up to you, but if I get the survey, I don’t plan to respond. Not the way they want me to anyway.

cross-posted from the Independence Institute’s “Our American Constitution” blog.

Rob Natelson

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