The U.S. Census

This Current Events and the Constitution focuses on the U.S. Census. With the 2010 census now underway, some have concerns that the questions are too personal or that the federal government should not have access to this information. Do the questions on the 2010 census form exceed Congress’s constitutional mandate to count population every ten years “in such a manner as they shall by law direct”?

Constitutional Question

Do the questions on the 2010 census form exceed Congress’s constitutional mandate to count population every ten years “in such a manner as they shall by law direct”?

Resources

The Constitution: Article I, Section 2

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers… The actual enumeration [of population] 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.

Questions to consider:

  1. What is the purpose of the US Census as stated in the Constitution?
  2. What instructions for carrying out the census are provided in the US Constitution?
  3. Why have some people objected to questions on this year’s census form?
  4. How has the government responded to these concerns?
  5. In your judgment, are these the concerns justified?
  6. A district court held in 2000 that census questions were not an invasion of citizens’ right to privacy because they were kept confidential and “the degree to which the information is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests has been found to be significant.” The Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of questions beyond “enumeration” (population count). Do you think these questions are “necessary and proper” ways for Congress to carry out its enumerated powers? Why or why not? What do YOU think?