Is the Census Citizen Question Enforceable?

Politicians claim that no one needs to answer the census citizen question if they don’t want to do so.

Refusing to answer the census citizen question might get you prosecuted. Or it might not. Politicians, including Jeff Sessions, say no one will be punished. Others say that it absolutely can be prosecuted.

In my opinion, we cannot be and should not be legally required to answer questions that are not directly relevant to the census. But whether or not one is a citizen is directly relevant.

But the problem is more complicated. What if, instead of refusing to answer the question, non-citizen residents simply lie. We don’t have the resources to verify every answer.

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So it looks to me like we won’t get reliable information from the census about how many citizens and non-citizens live in the United States.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like the citizenship question being included in the census. It gives me another chance to be entertained by Leftist temper tantrums.

The Washington Times reports, “People who refuse to answer 2020 census citizenship question unlikely to be prosecuted.

People who refuse to answer the citizenship question on the 2020 census are breaking the law — but there is little chance they will be fined, much less sent to jail, for their obstinacy.

It has been nearly a half-century since anyone was prosecuted for refusing to answer, and legal analysts say the law is now more of a prompt than a threat backed by punishments.

Although census takers always encounter refusals, the number next time could be higher than average thanks to the question that the Justice Department sought and the Commerce Department agreed to add to the decennial count. […]

Top administration officials have been at pains to tell people not to worry.

“It shouldn’t scare people,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during a congressional hearing […]. “They don’t have to answer it, really. I would think that’s a very reasonable thing, and I think concerns over it are overblown.”

The problem is that the law might say otherwise.

“It is a federal crime not to answer census questions,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a scholar at The Heritage Foundation, citing 13 USC 22.1. He said that law and another that could boost fines for noncompliance to as high as $5,000 are “not unconstitutionally vague.”

Phil Sparks, senior adviser and co-director of the Census Project with the Communications Consortium Media Center, sees it differently.

He said that while Americans must respond to the 2020 count, “there is no requirement to answer all the questions. The Census Bureau will accept a partially answered form.”

Read the entire story.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

About the author

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder is the "nom de plume" (or "nom de guerre") of a fifty-ish-year-old writer and stroke survivor. He lives in St Louis with his wife and still-at-home children. He has been a freelance writer and occasional political activist since the early nineties. He describes his politics as Tolkienesque.

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