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Judge puts brakes on Census Bureau
Posted By Sarah Foster On 03/28/2000 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
Americans who refuse to answer questions they consider invasive on
their Census questionnaires will be able to sleep a little easier — at
least for now.
A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Census Bureau has no automatic right to ask questions felt to be
personal or intrusive and that it cannot threaten or prosecute citizens
who refuse to answer such questions.
U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon granted attorney Mark Brewer, of
the Houston-based firm of Brewer and Pritchard, a temporary restraining order in a Census suit
filed by five Houston, Texas, residents. Attorneys for the government
conceded that none of the five plaintiffs will be subject to actual or
threatened prosecution during this litigation which is expected to go to
the U.S. Supreme
The ruling is especially far-reaching.
“For the moment, this will prevent prosecution against any American
who chooses not to answer questions other than the number of people
living at their address — that’s all that’s required by the
Constitution,” Brewer told WorldNetDaily. “It’s a huge victory for the
Constitution and for privacy-loving Americans, because we now have a
ruling in a federal court case.
“The Census Bureau cannot extract this information under threat of
criminal prosecution — that was the issue I presented to the court,” he
The penalty for not answering each question asked on the forms is
$100. False answers can cost up to $500 in fines.
The five — Edgar Morales, Laique Rehman, Nouhad Bassila, George
Breckenridge and William Jeffrey Van Fleet — are American citizens.
Brewer said his clients are not part of any organized group, “though
that is what people have assumed. They are just ordinary people who
want to be counted, but who do not want to give up their privacy to do
so. That’s the bottom line.”
“What the court did today,” Brewer explained, “was to order that the
Bureau could neither threaten nor actually prosecute these people for
not answering any question other than how many folks live at that
address. It’s the first time to my knowledge that this has happened in
the 213 years since we’ve had a Constitution.”
As he put it, “We hit a home run.”
Recalling his day in court, Brewer said he told the judge she was
“the only barrier standing between government on the one hand and these
five — I think very brave — people and the American people generally
on the other. I pointed out that the government lawyer had just told her
that he can ask anything he darn near pleases — where does it stop?”
Almost as important as the ruling itself is that the government
conceded that the plaintiffs have “standing,” meaning they had a right
to bring an action against the Census Bureau in the first place.
“This removed what was potentially the biggest impediment to the case
moving forward,” said Brewer. “We’re now looking forward to phase two,
which is when the case will be submitted on summary judgement in two
“This is what they call a three-judge court case,” he explained.
“It’s federal, but it’s a very unusual procedure. There are only a few
instances where it’s permitted by federal law, this being the primary
one: pertaining to census and apportionment. The case is filed like any
other case in federal court, then it is referred by the chief judge of
In this case, that’s the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, headed by
Judge Carol King.
Said Brewer, “The way it works is that when a motion of temporary
restraining order is filed, which we did on March 23, the single judge
that gets the initial assignment of the case can hear it. That’s really
about the only thing the judge can hear and rule upon. Then the
three-judge court is convened and the case is submitted on trial — and
here it’s for a summary judgment because there’s no dispute of the
“Both sides have the right of appeal,” Brewer continued, “and we’re
assuming they (the Census Bureau) will appeal it. And if we lose –
we’ll appeal it. Either way, it’s on its way to the Supreme Court.”
Brewer is handling the case pro bono — that is, without charge, but
and for the public good.
“One of the things I stressed to the judge,” said Brewer, [is that]
neither the plaintiffs nor I want to interrupt the census. To the
contrary. I want to ensure its constitutional integrity and validity.
But when you look at the lowered response rate, which by the Census
Bureau’s own admission is going to occur with the use of the long form,
then you can only conclude that they are intentionally erecting a
roadblock to getting an accurate count. They are intentionally
sacrificing an accurate count in order to obtain information through
statistics that they’re not even entitled to obtain.
“Unfortunately, we know the government is capable of misusing census
data,” he said. “The federal government was only able to find, round up
and imprison Americans of Japanese ancestry in 1942 by the illegal use
of Census Bureau data.”
Earlier stories about the census:
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