Apr 15, 2009

the peril of sticking it to the census man

In perhaps my favorite exchange from O Brother Where Art Thou, the Hogwallop child, after ensuring that our vagrant heroes aren't "from the bank," or "servin' papers," notes, "I nicked the census man." Delmar O'Donnell responds, "Now there's a good boy."

It's that time of the decade again. Blogger and principled libertarian D.A. Ridgely recently told a census taker that he'd rather not answer any questions.
He was, I believe, genuinely puzzled. Who could object to anything so innocuous as a census?

I could. Sadly, he entered something or other in his hand held gizmo, for all I know scheduling a visit to my house from federal SWAT team soon, probably in the middle of the night.

“The law is the law,” he said. We exchanged somewhat strained pleasantries and he went on his way.

He seemed like a nice man. I’m sorry I made him feel uncomfortable.

The applicable provision of the U.S. Code, for my fellow prospective scofflaws, is as follows:

Title 13 U.S. Code § 221. Refusal or neglect to answer questions; false answers

(a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100....
So there it is. A fine of not more than a hundred dollars for refusing and not more than $500 for lying. The law is the law.

Actually, I really don’t have any strong objections to the census. I do, however, object to being required to comply, even more so when it is being supervised by an ideological hack like Rahm Emanuel. But, hey, if Rahm knocks on the door personally, maybe I’ll reconsider.
As I noted a while ago, the penalty for refusing to answer the American Community Survey--a sort of pre-census--is pretty stiff. It maxes out at $5,000, actually--and, although I'm no lawyer, I have reason to believe the same is true of the regular-ol' census. According to the ACS website,
The American Community Survey is conducted under the authority of Title 13, United States Code, Sections 141 and 193, and response is mandatory. According to Section 221, persons who do not respond shall be fined not more than $100. Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3571 and Section 3559, in effect amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221 by changing the fine for anyone over 18 years old who refuses or willfully neglects to complete the questionnaire or answer questions posed by census takers from a fine of not more than $100 to not more than $5,000.
Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3571 reads, in part:
(a) In General.— A defendant who has been found guilty of an offense may be sentenced to pay a fine.
(b) Fines for Individuals.— Except as provided in subsection (e) of this section, an individual who has been found guilty of an offense may be fined not more than the greatest of
(1) the amount specified in the law setting forth the offense;
(2) the applicable amount under subsection (d) of this section;
(7) for an infraction, not more than $5,000.
[emphasis added]

The only exception in subsection (e) is for any law that "by specific reference, exempts the offense from the applicability of the fine otherwise applicable under this section." Sadly, Title 13 Section 221 doesn't make any specific reference and concomitant exemption.

At least it's not 1975, before the act was amended to remove the jail time penalty, up to 60 days for spurning the census man. Not sure how much you'd get for shooting him.

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