Is Today’s Census Constitutional?

Fears over the census on the part of some conservatives and libertarians appear to be a little overblown. However, some, as exemplified in the following recent segment from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show (specifically at around 3:03), have erred to a degree in stressing the constitutionality of the current census as a rebut to those critical of it:

The U.S. Constitution lays out the requirement of the census in the following way:

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, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

Note that it fails to mention any other record-keeping other than the actual counting of persons. And that counting was including under Article 1, Section 2, specifically linking the counting to the apportionment of House seats.

Today’s census includes more than just a meer counting of the number of individuals in a household. It also asks about what type of residence you live in, your gender and your race. Justifications for the extra-constitutional information no doubt have their merits, but to say that the current census is fully what the writers of the Constitution had in mind would be a stretch.

Especially noteworthy is that census information is also used in part to formulate population estimates in order to dole out federal dollars to states and localities. That practice of state and local government dependency on vast federal subsidies is something the Founders would have shunned.

* P.S. : Here is one other example of a misguided defense of the census!

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