The United States Census Bureau is charged with counting all individuals that reside in the United States, which is required by the Constitution to take place every 10 years. The information the census collects helps to determine how more than $400 billion of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services like hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers, bridges, tunnels and other public works projects, and emergency services; moreover, the census also helps determine the number of seats a state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. The first census was taken in 1790, and since then, every ten years there has been a census in the United States. Other major countries followed in the 19th century. It is a major topic in Demography.
History of the Census
The first census in 1790 was managed under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State. The first census began more than a year after the inauguration of President Washington and shortly before the second session of the first Congress ended. Congress assigned responsibility for the 1790 Census to the marshals of the U.S. judicial districts. Marshals took the census in the original 13 states plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee). Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was nominal supervisor of the census on Census Day, August 2, 1790.
The First Federal Congress established a special committee to prepare the questions to be included in the first census. The suggestions were likely debated in the House, and according to a report in a Boston newspaper, Virginia Representative James Madison recommended at least five of the initial six questions. The first six census inquiries in 1790 called for questions on gender, race, relationship to the head of household, name of the head of household, and the number of slaves, if any. Marshals in some states went beyond these questions and collected data on occupation and the number of dwellings in a city or town.
By 1820, the census was also asking how many in each household were "engaged in agriculture, commerce, and manufactures." In 1830, the census asked how many were "deaf, dumb or blind." The questions directed by Congress grew increasingly detailed through the remainder of the 19th century, and in 1902 Congress established the Census Bureau as a permanent agency.
In 1954, Congress codified earlier census acts and all other statutes authorizing the decennial census as Title 13, U.S. Code. Title 13, U.S. Code, does not specify which subjects or questions are to be included in the decennial census. However, it does require the Census Bureau to notify Congress of general census subjects to be addressed 3 years before the decennial census and the actual questions to be asked 2 years before the decennial census. Moreover, refusing to answer either the brief 2010 Census form or the longer ACS form is a violation of federal law. Refusing to answer is punishable by a fine of $100, while giving false answers carries a fine of up to $500.
The 2010 questionnaire is one of the shortest in history, and comes very close to the length and scope of inquiries asked in 1790. Everyone in the household answers seven questions: name, gender, race, ethnicity, and whether they sometimes live somewhere else. The head of household answers how many people live in the residence, whether it is a house, apartment, or mobile home, and provides a telephone number for Census workers to follow up if any information is incomplete or missing.
Census in the Constitution
The U.S. Constitution empowers the Congress to carry out the census in "such manner as they shall by Law direct" (Article I, Section 2). The Founders of the United States of America had a bold and ambitious plan to empower the people over their new government. The plan was to count every person living in the newly created United States of America, and to use that count to determine representation in the Congress.
|“||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 10 years, in such manner as they shall by Law direct. -- Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States||”|
The invention of the U.S. Constitution for the Census marked a turning point in world history. Previously censuses had been used mainly to tax or confiscate property or to conscript youth into military service. The Founders took a tool of government and made it a tool of political empowerment for the governed over their government.
Questions beyond a simple count are Constitutional
As early as 1870, the Supreme Court characterized as unquestionable the power of Congress to require both an enumeration and the collection of statistics in the census. In 1901, a District Court said the Constitution's census clause (Art. 1, Sec. 2, Clause 3) is not limited to a headcount of the population and "does not prohibit the gathering of other statistics, if 'necessary and proper,' for the intelligent exercise of other powers enumerated in the constitution, and in such case there could be no objection to acquiring this information through the same machinery by which the population is enumerated."
The census does not violate the Fourth Amendment. In concluding that there was no basis for holding Census 2000 unconstitutional, the District Court in Morales ruled that the 2000 Census and the 2000 Census questions did not violate the Fourth Amendment or other constitutional provisions as alleged by plaintiffs. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court decision on October 10, 2001. The U.S. Supreme Court denied petition for writ of certiorari on February 19, 2002. No published opinions were filed with these rulings. These decisions are consistent with the Supreme Court's recent description of the census.
For a more detailed treatment, see Census 2010.
In March 2010, census forms requires all U.S. citizens to answer 10 questions to account for everyone living at an individual address as of April 1, 2010. The Census Bureau intended to include a prepaid envelope with the form so that households would mail it back as soon as possible.
In 2009, the Obama Administration took the unprecedented step of moving control of the 2010 U.S. census from the Commerce Department to direct control by the White House and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Many congressional Republicans believe this was done as a "power grab" by the administration in order to manipulate congressional redistricting nationwide to favor Democrats. Additionally, it was discovered that the partisan, pro-Obama, fraud-laden group ACORN would assist in the census.
- Census Nonsense, FactCheck.org, March 18, 2010.
- Title 13, United States Code, Section 221.
- As a practical matter, Census says fines of up to $5,000 can be imposed under Title 18, Section 3571.
- U.S. Census Bureau. Census in the Constitution Web site accessed April 10, 2010.
- The Legal Tender Cases, (79 US 457) Supreme Ct. of the US 1830.
- Tex.1870; 12 Wall., U.S., 457, 536, 20 L.Ed. 287.
- United States v. Moriarity, 106 F. 886, 891 (S.D.N.Y.1901).
- Morales v. Daley, 116 F. Supp. 2d 801, 820 (S.D. Tex. 2000).
- The Morales court said responses to census questions are not a violation of a citizen's right to privacy or speech. "…[I]t is clear that the degree to which these questions intrude upon an individual's privacy is limited, given the methods used to collect the census data and the statutory assurance that the answers and attribution to an individual will remain confidential. The degree to which the information is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests has been found to be significant. A census of the type of Census 2000 has been taken every ten years since the first census in 1790. Such a census has been thought to be necessary for over two hundred years. There is no basis for holding that it is not necessary in the year 2000."
- Morales v. Evans unpublished opinion 275 F.3d 45, October 10, 2001 10 Oct 2001.
- 534 U.S. 1135.
- The Supreme Court described the census as the "linchpin of the federal statistical system … collecting data on the characteristics of individuals, households, and housing units throughout the country." Department of Commerce v. United States House of Representatives, 525 U.S. 316, 341 (1999).
- GOP Sounds Alarm Over Obama Decision to Move Census to White House, FOXNews.com, February 09, 2009.
- Glenn Beck. Glenn Beck: Obama's Census Control, GlennBeck.com, October 12, 2009.
- Pamela Geller. Census Stalkers, BigGovernment.com, March 22, 2010.
- Michelle Malkin. My race is “American”, MichelleMalkin.com, March 9, 2010.
- Cristina Corbin. ACORN to Play Role in 2010 Census, FOXNews.com, March 18, 2009.