Census and Sensibility

I often see libertarians contrasting (as Walter Block does here, for example) those census questions that the Constitution makes it legally mandatory to answer versus those it doesn’t.

But as I’ve argued elsewhere:

Although as an anarchist I don’t especially care what the Constitution says one way or another, it’s worth noting that all the Constitution authorizes is the mere conducting of a census; it doesn’t authorize mandating compliance, since forcing people to answer is not essential to the conducting of a census. (Private groups conduct surveys all the time without enjoying such power.) So as I read the Constitution (though of course the government doesn’t give a damn about how I read it), even if one accepts the Constitution’s authority there is still no legally binding obligation to answer any of the questions.

Now it might be objected that the Constitution also grants Congress the “power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” its powers – and the power to compel compliance might thereby be taken to be “necessary” to the end of enumerating the citizens.

But even if it is necessary, what’s authorized is legislation that’s necessary and proper; and compelling compliance with the census is not “proper.”

How do we know it ’s not “proper” in the Constitutional sense of that term? By appeal to Spooner’s 7th, 12th, and 14th rules of legal interpretation.

Why should we accept Spooner’s rules? I sing, I dance.


  1. April Fool’s: Census Day | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty - April 1, 2010

    […] Roderick Long has an answer to the authorities on this count: [I]t’s worth noting that all the Constitution […]

  2. Census and Sensibility, Part 2 | Austro-Athenian Empire - May 28, 2010

    […] Assume, also, that the Constitution not only authorises the federal government to conduct a census but also authorises it to compel people to answer it (though, again we shouldn’t accept that either). […]

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes